PHOENIX - A co-defendant in the 1991 killings of nine people at a suburban Phoenix Buddhist temple insisted Thursday during cross-examination that his accused accomplice was the mastermind of the crime and that despite initially lying to police, he has told the truth ever since.
Allesandro "Alex" Garcia pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison in exchange for his testimony and a promise that prosecutors wouldn't seek the death penalty.
Garcia has calmly described for jurors the events leading up to the killings at the Wat Promkunaram temple, saying the crime was Johnathan A. Doody's idea, aimed at stealing cash and valuables from the monks.
Doody, now 39, was found guilty in 1993 and sentenced to 281 years in prison, but an appeals court overturned his conviction in 2011 after ruling that investigators improperly obtained his confession.
He went on trial again in August, but a judge declared a mistrial after jurors failed to reach a verdict. His third trial began last week.
Garcia said that after the valuables were gathered up, he tried to convince Doody not to kill the victims, including six monks, but Doody was determined to leave behind no witnesses. He said Doody opened fire first.
Doody's brother and mother were members of the temple, but neither were there the night of the shootings.
Authorities said Garcia and Doody made away with about $2,600 and other valuables.
Police eventually found the stolen items at Garcia's house, where Doody was staying at the time.
Defense attorneys on Thursday worked to chip away at Garcia's story, accusing him of only implicating Doody to avoid the death penalty. They also noted how Garcia initially lied to police about his involvement, then implicated nearly a half dozen other people who weren't involved.
"They desperately wanted me to implicate other people," Garcia said, acknowledging he lied at first, but explaining that only he and Doody carried out the killings.
Defense lawyer David Rothschild also hammered Garcia over his plea deal with prosecutors, which included allowing him to serve his sentence at a prison outside Arizona while also avoiding a trial in a separate murder he participated in around the same time.
"If you change your story now under the terms of this agreement, you lose your deal, right?" Rothschild asked.
"That is how it is worded," Garcia replied, explaining he likes his prison housing and wants to get back soon to finish watching the NFL football season.
"I love football," he said.
Rothschild also noted for jurors that if Garcia changes his story now or refused to testify again, he not only risks being returned to Arizona to serve his sentence, but could face up to six months in county jail for contempt in much less comfortable conditions than his current prison.
In his confession, Doody said he went to the temple with Garcia but claimed he was outside when the shootings occurred. The appeals court's decision meant prosecutors couldn't use Doody's confession at his retrials. They are instead relying largely on Garcia's testimony.