In January 2014, Johnathan Doody was found guilty – again – for his part in the 1991 slaughter of six monks, a nun and two temple helpers. They were shot in the back of the head and found face-down in a circle at the Wat Promkunaram Temple west of Phoenix, Arizona.
The first guilty verdict had been tossed, followed by a mistrial. Justice has finally been achieved.
Just 17 at the time, Doody had claimed that he was outside during the slaughter, but his friend and partner, Alessandro Garcia, had turned on him - a frequent occurrence with killing teams, post-arrest. BFFs suddenly become adversaries. This past Friday, Doody was sentenced. He got 249 years.
I first heard of this stunning incident when I sorted through cases with Gregg McCrary for his book, The Unknown Darkness. Because it had involved the coerced false confessions of five other men, I thought it was a good case to include.
McCrary was one of the FBI agents who'd arrived on the scene to give a profile. “Youth and stupidity” is what he and his partner had observed. But investigators ignored the profile. That oversight played out in multiple negative ways, including another murder and the false imprisonment of another man. The profile, it turns out, was accurate and would have been helpful.
I was also with McCrary, going through the case photos, when the TV series CSI aired its version of this incident. The actual case is infinitely better. Still, it was chilling to see the crime scene images of the bodies lying in a circle while we were watching a fictionalized version.
Garcia told police that he and Doody had plotted for two months after hearing from Doody's brother (a member) about money kept at the temple. They had borrowed weapons and burst in one evening. The monks did not resist as the boys ordered them to kneel in a circle. When an elderly nun came in, they made her join the men.
After the boys ransacked the place to look for cash, cameras, and other valuables, Garcia said, Doody decided they had to eliminate all witnesses. Garcia claimed that Doody alone shot each one twice in the back of the head. Garcia then carved the word "Bloods" on a wall to deflect police and they both sprayed the place with fire extinguishers. (Youth and stupidity is right.)
A month later, Garcia had persuaded his 14-year-old girlfriend to help him murder Alice Cameron, a woman in a campground. He told police that she had volunteered to do it, but she said that Garcia had insisted she do it to “prove her love.” For Garcia, she also had stolen her mother’s car and father’s gun. (There appears to be a pattern with Garcia blaming others.)
Evaluating psychologists were divided. Two viewed Garcia as antisocial and capable of carrying out a plan efficiently. A second diagnosed antisocial personality disorder, but a defense psychologist said Garcia was a follower with a learning disability. He’d assisted Doody for the sake of preserving the friendship.
Garcia tells his own story, and it doesn’t sound like that of a follower. In a taped interview with writer Mark Sager, Garcia seemed to delight in how the monks had “jerked” when a bullet hit them. His favorite memory was the gurgling of blood in their throats. His regret lay in getting caught and he surmised that, had he remained free, there would have been more murders. Garcia told another court psychologist that he had no feelings about the crime.
I believe that Garcia was much more fully involved in both incidents than he admitted. But his was the story used in Doody’s proceedings, because a court had found that Doody’s confession had been coerced. Thus, Doody did not get a voice. Even if he had, it would have been impossible to know who had made the fatal shots.
I awaited a full book on the case that would document how badly it had been bungled, since there were many complex angles beyond the FBI profile issues. Finally, in 2010, Gary L Stuart published Innocent Until Interrogated: The True Story behind the Buddhist Temple Massacre and the Tucson Four. It’s a must-read for investigators and attorneys alike. Thanks to Stuart’s dogged detailing of the investigation and treatment of suspects, he shows just how confessions can be (and were) coerced.
This is a tragic case with a dark ripple effect. Far too many innocent people were harmed. But finally, Doody, who still insists on his innocence, has been locked up.