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Barbara O'Brien

The Wat Promkunaram Homicides, 17 Years Later

By November 21, 2008

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It was a particularly grisly crime -- six Buddhist monks, a nun and two novices were shot to death, execution-style, in a Buddhist temple west of Phoenix, Arizona. The bodies were found more than 17 years ago, in August 1991.

The homicides are back in the news today, because a young man who confessed to taking part in the crimes might be released. A judge threw out his confession, saying it was coerced. Arthur Rotstein reports for the Associated Press --

The appellate judges noted that [Johnathan] Doody did not confess to any involvement in the temple killings for more than five hours after his 12 1/2-hour interrogation began -- after three officers had "subjected him to 45 minutes of repeated, overwhelmingly unanswered questions, interspersed with commands that Doody 'had' to answer."

The judges said, "This timing alone strongly suggests that his will was overcome ... by the officers' overall, interrelated, coercive messages that they would continue relentlessly questioning him until he told them what they wanted to hear, and that he would eventually have to do so."

Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz helped argue Doody's case.

As I remember it, at the time the prosecutor in charge of the case was determined to seek the death penalty for Doody, who was 17 when the crimes were committed. The families of the murder victims, members of the temple, the head of the monastic order in Thailand, and many American Buddhists wrote letters to the PA to persuade him that the death penalty was inappropriate and disrespectful of the religious beliefs of the victims. However, Doody's life was spared only because the sentencing judge was not sure it was Doody who pulled the trigger.

I don't believe I was aware of a possibly coerced confession at the time, nor do I remember if anyone ever nailed down a motive for the killings. There was speculation that someone in the temple was engaged in heroin smuggling and that the young men who took part in the murder were in Asian gangs, but I don't recall that there was any direct evidence linking the temple to drug smuggling. I believe the temple, Wat Promkunaram, is still serving the local Buddhist community today.

Prosecutors may choose to hold another trial or may seek to reverse the appellate judges' ruling. Otherwise, Doody will be released.

November 21, 2008 at 7:19 pm
(1) Lise says:

Ah, Alan Dershowitz, one of OJ’s dream team. . . Not sure how much credibility I give to anything he does or says.
Anyhow, seems to make more sense to retry Doody rather than just set him free.

November 21, 2008 at 11:59 pm
(2) Barbara O'Brien says:

We’ll see what happens. I don’t know what other evidence the prosecutor might have against Doody.

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