PHOENIX (AP) — Jurors at the retrial of an Arizona man charged with the 1991 murders of nine people at a Buddhist temple in metro Phoenix were played a confession from the man’s high-school friend who said they went to the house of worship to carry out a robbery.
Prosecutors in 39-year-old Johnathan A. Doody’s retrial focused heavily in opening statements Wednesday on the recorded confession of Alessandro Garcia, who pleaded guilty to the nine murders and was sentenced to life in prison.
Garcia said Doody had masterminded the August 1991 robbery at the Wat Promkunaram temple in the community of Waddell and insisted that Doody was intent on not leaving behind any witnesses.
“His intentions were to kill everybody,” the then-16-year-old Garcia said, insisting that he didn’t want anyone killed.
Doody’s lawyers say their client is innocent and that Garcia gave investigators who were feeling public pressure to solve the high-profile murders whatever they wanted, allowing Garcia to avoid the death penalty.
Doody is accused of killing six monks, a nun and two helpers during a robbery. Their bodies were found arranged face-down in a circle, each shot in the back of the head. Authorities say Doody and Garcia made off with cameras, stereo equipment, piggy banks and about $2,600 in cash.
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.
Doody is being retried after a federal appeals court ruled that his confession, taken when Doody was 17, wasn’t given voluntarily, partly because he wasn’t properly read his rights by the officers who were interrogating him.
Prosecutor Jason Kalish played an excerpt from Garcia’s confession in which Garcia said they had gotten information on the temple complex’s layout and whether the building had security and valuables inside. Garcia said they had gotten the information from Doody’s brother, who was a monk in training there.
“They (Johnathan Doody and Garcia) put all this information together and drew a handmade map,” Kalish said.
The prosecutor also showed jurors a photo of nine dead bodies on the floor of the temple and images of gunshot wounds to the back of each victim’s head. Doody sat expressionless as images of the victims were shown on an overhead projector.
David Rothschild, one of Doody’s attorneys, told jurors that there was no evidence that puts Doody at temple during the crime, except Garcia’s confession.
“Alex Garcia gave them the truth that they needed to hear,” Rothschild said.
Rothschild pointed out that four men from Tucson had been arrested earlier in the case, but were released after investigators found out they weren’t involved.
In a 1991 interview with police, Doody said he went to the temple during the robbery and was outside during the shooting, but he denied killing anyone. The appeals court’s decision means prosecutors can’t use Doody’s confession at trial.
Opening arguments were delayed for about 90 minutes Wednesday after a television station that was taking pool video of the trial was found by Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Joseph Kreamer to have violated a rule that prohibited the media from capturing images of jurors. The judge said about 25 seconds of video was inadvertently aired as the jurors were leaving for a lunch break.
The video was posted on YouTube. The judge has barred the pool video camera.
Defense attorneys asked for a mistrial, arguing the violation of court rules opens up the possibility that jurors could be harassed. But the judge denied the mistrial request after jurors said the video wouldn’t affect their ability to be fair and impartial.