PHOENIX (Reuters) - An Arizona man convicted of the execution-style killings of six Buddhist monks and three others at a temple near Phoenix over two decades ago was sentenced on Friday to spend the rest of his life in prison.
Johnathan Doody, 39, was sentenced to nine life terms after being convicted by a jury in January of nine counts of first-degree murder and armed robbery for a crime that drew international attention and remains the most deadly mass murder in the southwest U.S. state’s history.
Thailand-born Doody also was convicted of one count each of burglary and conspiracy by jurors in Maricopa County Superior Court following a month-long trial. Doody did not testify during his last trial.
Doody was not eligible for the death penalty because he was 17 at the time of the 1991 killings at the Wat Promkunaram temple in Waddell, Arizona, prosecutors said.
He was originally convicted in 1994, but a U.S. appeals court threw out the decision in May 2011, saying it was based on a coerced confession, and a retrial was ordered. A second jury deadlocked on his fate in October 2013, but he was convicted in a second retrial.
The case cast a harsh spotlight on Arizona, focusing a critical glance at the tactics used to solicit confessions from the accused.
The bodies of six monks, one novice, one nun and a temple boy were discovered on August 10, 1991, in a circle, face down, each with a single gunshot to the head. Personal property was taken and their living spaces vandalized.
Four men from Tucson were originally arrested for the killings after an intense interrogation by sheriff’s deputies resulted in their confessions. But the charges were dropped when the men later recanted and authorities could not pin the crime on them.
Authorities then focused on Doody and his high school classmate, Alessandro “Alex” Garcia, 16, when a .22-caliber semiautomatic rifle was found during an unrelated search of a friend’s vehicle. It was 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, ordered that no witnesses be left, and fired the fatal shots.
Garcia, who was the key witness for the prosecution at Doody’s latest trial, pleaded guilty to the murders and an unrelated homicide and was sentenced to 271 years in prison in 1993.
Reporting by David Schwartz in Phoenix; Editing by Eric Johnson, Ken Wills and Tom Brown