PHOENIX – An Arizona man convicted of killing nine people at a Buddhist temple near Phoenix faced another setback Tuesday in his 18-year battle for freedom, after the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a lower court to reconsider its decision to overturn his conviction.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco had ruled in February that Jonathan Doody's confession was involuntary in the killing of six priests, a nun and two helpers during a robbery at the Wat Promkunaram temple west of Phoenix. Doody was 17 at the time of the killings in 1991 and was sentenced to 281 years in prison after he was convicted of murder, armed robbery and other charges in the slayings.
Officers didn't properly read Doody his rights while interrogating him, the appeals court had ruled.
But in their decision Tuesday, the Supreme Court justices said police only have to ensure the warnings they read reasonably communicate a suspect's rights. They pointed the appeals court to the reasoning laid out in their decision in a similar case in February which reinstated a Florida man's weapons possession conviction.
Doody's attorney, Victoria Eiger, said from New York that she was disappointed that the 9th Circuit would be reconsidering their decision.
"We were hoping that the Supreme Court would rule in the way that would put an end to this very protracted process," she said. "We will continue to fight his case and hope to win his freedom just as soon as possible."
The bodies at the temple were found arranged in a circle, and all the victims had been shot in the head. The killings stirred outrage in Thailand, where monks are revered and where most men serve a brief stint as apprentice monks at some point in their lives.
The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office first arrested four Tucson men in the killings, but they were released after investigators found they were not involved. Three of the men said they were coerced into confessing after being denied sleep, food and water during marathon interrogation sessions, while the fourth man never confessed.
Doody and another teen were arrested after investigators linked them to the murder weapon.
Co-defendant Alessandro Garcia, who pleaded guilty to escape the death penalty in exchange for his testimony, said Doody was the triggerman. Doody was spared the death penalty because the judge couldn't determine whether he fired the weapon.
According to Garcia's testimony, the two wanted to steal large amounts of gold and cash that they believed to be kept by the monks. Investigators said the robbery netted some cash and electronics gear.
Doody was born in Thailand to Buddhist parents. His mother belonged to the temple. The lower court also criticized the length of questioning — nearly 13 hours — especially considering Doody's young age.
Kent Cattani, the prosecutor in charge of the case for the attorney general's office, said in February that Doody's confession was "reliable and admissible." The attorney general's office asked the Supreme Court to review the case and was waiting for a ruling before deciding whether to retry Doody without the alleged confession.