Judge declares mistrial in Arizona 'temple murders' case

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 24, 2013 3:16 PM

By David Schwartz

PHOENIX (Reuters) - An Arizona judge declared a mistrial on Thursday after jurors deadlocked on the fate of a Phoenix man standing trial for a second time in the murder of six monks and three others at a Thai Buddhist temple near Phoenix in 1991.

The 12-member jury told Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Joseph Kreamer it was unable to reach a unanimous verdict after seven days of deliberations in the retrial of Johnathan Doody, 39, convicted of the execution-style killings in 1994 in what remains the biggest mass murder in Arizona history.

Thai-born Doody was granted a new trial after a U.S. appeals court tossed out his conviction in May 2011, saying it was based on a coerced confession.

Prosecutors have said they would retry Doody if the jury deadlocked. He is not eligible for the death penalty if convicted because he was a juvenile at the time the crimes were committed.

The month-long retrial revisited the shootings at the Wat Promkunaram temple in Waddell, Arizona, which became known as the "temple murders." The crime brought international media attention to the state and focused a glaring spotlight on police tactics used to solicit confessions.

The bodies of six monks, one novice, one nun and a temple boy were found on August 10, 1991, face down in a circle, each killed by a gunshot to the head, according to court records. Their living areas had been ransacked and personal property stolen.

Doody, who was 17 at the time, and co-defendant Alessandro "Alex" Garcia, then 16 years old, came under suspicion when a .22-caliber semiautomatic rifle owned by a friend was found during an unrelated vehicle search and identified as the murder weapon.

Doody was questioned by investigators for 12 hours in October 1991 and admitted to his involvement. Garcia said Doody was the "mastermind of the plan" to rob the temple and fired the fatal shots.

Doody was convicted and sentenced to 281 years in prison in 1994, and Garcia, who testified against Doody in the original trial, received 271 years for the murders and an unrelated homicide.

The appeals court overturned Doody's conviction, ruling that investigators did not properly give him his Miranda warnings outlining his legal rights and that his confession was coerced and could not be used in court.

At the retrial, Garcia once again blamed Doody for masterminding the robbery, which he testified turned deadly when Doody declared that no witnesses were to remain alive.

Defense attorneys attempted to cast doubt on Garcia's account, maintaining that there was no other evidence that put Doody at the crime scene that August day. The defense presented no witnesses.

The eight-man, four-woman jury began deliberations on September 24, but were forced to start over when one of the jurors was excused.

The judge said a retrial could be held as soon as November. A status hearing is scheduled for October 31.

(Reporting by David Schwartz; Editing by Tim Gaynor and Eric Beech)