TUCSON - A federal appeals court has ruled that a juvenile’s confession in the 1991 killings of nine people at a Buddhist temple near Phoenix was involuntary.
The ruling on Johnathan Doody’s appeal means that the then-17-year-old’s murder convictions will be overturned and he’ll be freed unless he’s retried or the government successfully appeals.
A spokeswoman for the Arizona Attorney General’s Office said they plan to appeal the decision.
Doody was convicted in February 1994 and given a 281-year prison sentence for the slayings of six priests, a nun and two helpers during a robbery at the Wat Promkunaram temple west of Phoenix.
A 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel on Thursday sent the case back to a federal judge in Phoenix to return it to state court.
Doody is serving nine consecutive life sentences and another 11 lesser sentences at an Arizona Department of Corrections facility at Buckeye.
“We’re delighted with this ruling,” said Vicky Eiger, who with law partner Alan Dershowitz, noted Harvard law professor and appellate attorney, handled Doody’s appeal over the last dozen years.
“They found that the Arizona Court of Appeals’ determination that Doody’s statements were voluntary was an 'unreasonable application’ of U.S. Supreme Court case law,” said Joseph Maziarz, assistant Arizona attorney general in charge of the criminal appeals section. “We obviously disagree.”
The appellate judges said Doody “was finally broken down by the ceaseless questioning of two, three and four police officers, questioning that continued despite his frequent long stretches of silence. Under these circumstances, we conclude, he did not voluntarily confess. The state court’s holding to the contrary was ... an 'objectively unreasonable’ application of clearly established federal law.”
The judges said that except for his confession and testimony of Alessandro Garcia, a 16-year-old friend, “the evidence against Doody was weak” and circumstantial.