A federal appeals court in San Francisco today overturned the murder conviction of an Arizona man in the notorious killing of nine people at a Buddhist temple near Phoenix in 1991.
Jonathan Doody was 17 and a high school junior when he allegedly shot and killed six monks, two nuns and a novice at the Wat Promkunaram Buddhist Temple during a robbery on Aug. 9, 1991.
He was convicted of nine murders in state court in Arizona and sentenced to 281 years in prison.
An accomplice, Alessandro Garcia, pleaded guilty to the murders, testified against Doody and was sentenced to 271 years in prison.
In today’s ruling, an 11-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided by an 8-3 vote that a confession that sheriff’s detectives obtained from Doody during nearly 13 hours of overnight interrogation was coerced.
The court said the conviction must be overturned and that Doody should be given a new trial.
Doody was arrested two months after the murders at a high school football game where he was participating in a flag ceremony, and was questioned overnight by teams of two, three or four detectives without a lawyer or a parent present.
He began confessing to the murders about halfway through the interrogation after the officers told him he had to answer questions.
Doody had been told at the beginning of the interview that he had a right to a lawyer and a right to remain silent. But the appeals court said the detective who told him of his rights did so in a confusing way that implied he should ask for a lawyer only if he was guilty.
Circuit Judge Johnnie Rawlinson wrote that audiotapes of the interview reflected a “relentless, nearly 13-hour interrogation of a sleep-deprived teenager by a tag team of detectives.”
Doody took his appeals to the federal court system in a habeas corpus petition after Arizona state courts upheld his conviction.
Arizona prosecutors appealed to an 11-judge federal panel after a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit ruled in 2008 that the conviction must be overturned.
Prosecutors were not immediately available for comment on whether they plan to appeal further to the U.S. Supreme Court.