Arizona man sentenced to nine life terms in prison for Buddhist temple murders

By David Schwartz

PHOENIX (Reuters) - An Arizona man convicted of the execution-style killings of six Buddhist monks and three others at a temple near Phoenix more than two decades ago was sentenced on Friday to spend the rest of his life in prison.

Johnathan Doody, 39, was sentenced to nine consecutive 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 received another 33 years for eight armed robbery counts, and one count each of burglary and conspiracy after being convicted in Maricopa County Superior Court after a month-long trial.

"From my perspective, there can be no other sentence," Judge Joseph Kreamer said in handing down his decision. Kreamer also read aloud the names of the nine people the then-high school student was convicted of murdering in Waddell, Arizona.

Doody was not eligible for the death penalty because he was 17 at the time of the killings at the Wat Promkunaram temple, where the bodies of six monks, a novice, a nun and a temple boy were discovered on August 10, 1991, in a circle, face down, each with a single gunshot to the head.

Four men from Tucson were originally arrested for the killings after an interrogation by sheriff's deputies resulted in their confessions. But the charges were dropped when the men recanted and authorities could not pin the crime on them.

Authorities then focused on Doody and his high school classmate, Alessandro "Alex" Garcia, 16, after a .22-caliber semiautomatic rifle was found during an unrelated search of a friend's vehicle. It was identified as the murder weapon.

Doody, who did not testify during his last trial, also did not speak during the sentencing. Shackled and wearing gray prison stripes, he showed no emotion while the judge spoke. His father told Reuters that the sentence came as no surprise.

"This is what we expected," Brian Doody said, moments after learning his son's sentence, his wife and daughter by his side. "It wasn't a shock to us. We haven't recovered from the verdict. We still believe in his innocence."

Maria Schaffer, one of Doody's attorneys, told the court she will appeal. A county attorney's spokesman declined comment on the sentence.

Doody 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 and the tactics used to solicit confessions from the accused.

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)

[Image: Johnathan Doody listens as he is found guilty of the 1991 execution-style murders of nine people, including six monks, at a Buddhist temple near Phoenix, Jan. 23, 2014. By Charlie Leight for The Arizona Republic/Pool/Reuters.]