By declining to hear the case, the U.S. Supreme Court lets-stand a lower court decision to toss out the confession of a man convicted of killing nine people at a Buddhist temple in the west Valley. ASU Law professor Gary Stuart, who authored a book about coerced confessions of early suspects in Buddhist Temple murders, comments the case.
Ted Simons: Well, convicted Buddhist Temple murderer Jonathan Doody could soon go free. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to reconsider a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that threw out Doody's confession because his Miranda rights were not properly read. Doody was convicted of killing nine people at a West Valley Buddhist Temple in 1991. Here to talk about the Court's decision is Gary Stuart, an experienced trial attorney and senior policy advisory at ASU's Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law. Stuart also the author of a book that focused on coerced early confessions in the Buddhist Temple murders. Good to see again. Thanks for joining us.
Gary Stuart: Thanks Ted. Thanks for having me back.
Ted Simons: So 20 years ago, real brief overview of what happened in the West Valley.
Gary Stuart: Two people broke into a Buddhist Temple and killed six monks and three other people in an execution-style killing that shocked certainly Arizona, all of America, and most of Thailand. That was the crime.
Ted Simons: And eventually we had four suspects that you wrote about in details in your book who had coerced confessions. Once that was out of the way, we did have two folks who wound up convicted of the crime, including Jonathan Doody.
Gary Stuart: One was tried and convicted; the other pled guilty and was convicted. So they had a very different court process.
Ted Simons: Doody was the one who was tried?
Gary Stuart: Right, he was tried in the summer of 1993.
Ted Simons: What was the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rule regarding a confession used in the trial?
Gary Stuart: They looked very carefully at Doody's confession. They listened to the audiotapes, the judges actually listened to the audio tapes, read the transcripts and they decided that his confession coerced by the interrogating officers, that it was involuntary because it was overborne. In addition to that, they held that his Miranda rights were improperly given to him. The Miranda rights can be read on a card by a police officer in less than 30 seconds. They can be read from the official form in probably 60 seconds. It took 14 pages of transcript to explain those rights to him by the interrogating officers. And that was the most serious problem identified by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Ted Simons: Was there a language problem involved?
Gary Stuart: There wasn't much of a language, he was fluent in English, but he was a Thai speaker. He was exhausted at the time. All of this took place starting at 10 p.m., 10:15 at night, and didn't finish until 10:00 a.m. the following morning. There was this long exhaustive time period where his will was overborne. It began by giving him his Miranda rights, but explaining them and minimizing them. That's what the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held.
Ted Simons: And the Supreme Court said we're not going to look at this again, because the 9th got it right.
Gary Stuart: The 9th got it right the second time. They looked at this case a year ago this time and they sent it back to the 9th circuit and said take a second and look at this and write another case called Florida vs. POW. They came back with this decision, and they said, all right, you've looked twice, we're not going to look at it again.
Ted Simons: Now you've seen the transcripts, you referred to the tapes. You know what went on as best as anyone could who wasn't there regarding this confession. How did he confess? How long did it take to get him to confess?
Gary Stuart: If you chart the time -- and there was a really good chart made by the police officers -- it took about six hours into his interrogation, which is in the wee hours of the morning, 4:00 a.m., 5:00 a.m. after he was arrested the prior night. Before he started he admitted physically being at the scene of the crime. He admitted that he was there, that there were several others there, none from Tucson, and all from the west side of town. And that he did not participate in the killings. He was outside in the parking lot at the time the killings took place. He simply did not participate, that's his whole confession.
Ted Simons: And, but, so ---I don't -- I don't understand. That doesn't sound like much of a confession.
Gary Stuart: It isn't much of a confession except under the felony murder rule, it is a confession of being physically present at a time when a brutal crime, murder in this case, came about. So that's enough to convict him of felony murder. If the jury believes that, if they believe that came out of his mouth, they listened to it with headphones and read his transcript. But they only found him guilty of felony murder, not of premeditated murder.
Ted Simons: That's why we don't see a death penalty?
Gary Stuart: Well, we don't see a death penalty because the judge decided the death penalty was inappropriate and declined to give it at all.Based on the trial, based on the evidence and based on the judgment of the trial judge.
Ted Simons: What happens now? The county prosecutors refile? I can't imagine they are going to just let him walk free?
Gary Stuart: Well, there are some housekeeping details. The case goes physically back to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals prepares new documents and send it down to the U.S. District Court here in Arizona. The district court was ordered to either release Jonathan Doody or allow the State to retry him. The ball will really fall in the Maricopa County attorney's office. They will make a decision about whether or not to retry Jonathan Doody. It's likely they will make an affirmative decision and start that process of preparing a new trial for Jonathan Doody.
Ted Simons: And that means getting his accomplice, this Alessandro Garcia, I believe his name was, who helped with the prosecution last time, to help again. He's obviously put away forever. Is he going to help again?
Gary Stuart: That's one of the biggest questions to be answered.
Gary Stuart: The terms of his plea deal probably obligate him to testify again. Or they could try to use his trial testimony; they have that as a matter of record. But he may say, sure, I'd like to come back to Phoenix. He may not say that. No one knows. So that's a big problem for the prosecutor. But the bigger problem is, if that's the only evidence against him -- because his confession is now inadmissible --
Ted Simons: Right.
Gary Stuart: -- there's no forensic evidence of any kind to place him at the crime scene. Somebody physically has to put him in that room. It's not going to come from him this time. Last time it did. The only person that can do that is Garcia. So Garcia may agree, he may disagree. So that's a big giant question as to whether or not the retrial will be successful. There are lots of other questions but they have to start with that one.
Ted Simons: When Doody's attorney says this confession, now is inadmissible, just forget about it - it does't exist. When they say that confession is the cornerstone of the prosecution's case, they may have a point?
Gary Stuart: They have a big point. That was the cornerstone. The only other evidence that puts him at the scene is by Alex Garcia. There is no other evidence.
Ted Simons: We talked about your book last time you were on the program, mostly about the Tucson four originally confessing to the crime and had absolutely nothing to do with it. When you hear about this confession under these circumstances, surprise you at all?
Gary Stuart: No. If you read the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals' opinion, they start on the first page of their opinion -- it's a long opinion, 106 pages -- they start with what happened in Tucson. They remind the readers of the opinion that the same team of investigators that took these false confessions and coerced them also took these purportedly true confessions and coerced at least one of those. They have never looked at Garcia's confession. Every confession they have looked at they have found to be coerced by the interrogators and not given voluntarily by the suspects. So it doesn't surprise me, after having read the transcripts and listened to the audiotapes. Frankly, nor does it anyone else, at least as to the first group.
Ted Simons: All right. Fascinating stuff. Good to have you on the show, good to see you again. Thanks for joining us.
Gary Stuart: Thanks, Ted, bye-bye.
Gary Stuart:ASU Law Professor, Author;