US

Man sentenced to 249 years for 1991 temple slaying

PHOENIX (AP) — A man convicted of killing nine people, including six monks, during a robbery at a Buddhist temple in metro Phoenix was sentenced Friday to 249 years in prison, marking the end of one of the most notorious criminal cases in Arizona over the past 25 years.

Johnathan A. Doody, 39, was found guilty in January of first-degree murder in the deaths of six monks, one nun and two helpers who were shot in the back of the head and placed face-down in a circle in August 1991 at the Wat Promkunaram temple west of Phoenix.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Joseph Kreamer said it's difficult to fathom the murders. "These people were peace-loving," Kreamer said. "These people didn't seek violence." Doody, who was 17 at the time of the crimes, was one of two men convicted in the killings.

Allesandro "Alex" Garcia, a high school friend of Doody's, pleaded guilty and was previously sentenced to life in prison in exchange for his testimony and a promise that prosecutors wouldn't seek the death penalty.

Doody was found guilty in 1993 and sentenced to 281 years in prison. But an appeals court threw out his conviction in 2011 after ruling that investigators improperly obtained a confession. Doody's second trial resulted in a mistrial in October after jurors failed to reach a verdict.

During the retrials, Garcia described for jurors how the crime was Doody's idea, aimed at stealing about $2,600 cash and valuables from the monks. Garcia said he tried to persuade Doody not to kill the victims after the robbery, but Doody was determined to leave behind no witnesses.

Doody's brother and mother were members of the temple, but neither were there the night of the shootings. Police found the stolen items at Garcia's house, where Doody was staying at the time. Defense attorneys argued Garcia was lying and only implicated Doody to avoid a death sentence.

Doody, who maintains he is innocent of the crimes, declined to make comments to the judge before the sentence was handed down. He would have to serve 175 years of his sentence before becoming eligible for parole.

"We hope this sentence makes him suffer for the rest of his life," Barb Heller, who spoke on behalf of the temple, told the jury before the sentence was given. 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's attorneys plan to appeal their client's convictions. Defense attorney Maria Schaffer told the judge that Doody has expressed remorse for what happened to the victims. "But he wants everybody to know that he did not do these crimes," Schaffer said.

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. An appeals court barred prosecutors from using Doody's statement in his trial that ended in January.

Doody was spared the death penalty in his first trial. Prosecutors couldn't seek the death penalty in his retrials because of a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision that prohibits authorities from pursuing that punishment against defendants who were younger than 18 years old when the crime occurred.

Associated Press writer Brian Skoloff contributed to this report.

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