Nine members of a West Valley Buddhist Temple are arranged in a circle as they are shot execution style by teenagers who robbed then of $2,600 in cash and valuables.
False arrests, false confessions, armed robbery, mass murder and international pressure all begin in a small Buddhist Temple in the West Valley community of Waddell.
It was the morning of August 10, 1991, when the Wat Promkunaram Temple cook Premchit Hash entered the Temple and found a horrifying site. There she saw six Buddhist monks, a nun, a novice and a temple boy arranged in a circle, lying dead on the floor. Each was shot in the back of the head with a .22 caliber rifle. In total 17 shots were fired, and all hit their target. The suspects stole about $2,600 in cash and valuables from the temple and the victims.
The Tucson Four:
A few weeks later authorities received a phone call from someone confessing to the murders and implicating three other young men from Tucson.
The 'Tucson four' as they became known were arrested and questioned by investigators from the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office for hours. One interrogation lasted nearly thirteen hours. After these interview sessions all four confessed in writing, but the next day after meeting with their parents and attorneys, all four recanted their confessions and professed their innocence. It was later learned that the anonymous tip from one of the 'Tucson four' was made by a mental patient.
With no other evidence present, the Tucson four were released after a few months in jail. Three years later they accepted a $2.8 million settlement from Maricopa County.
A Break in the Case:
In an unrelated search of a vehicle in the area, a Merlin Model 60, .22 caliber rifle was found. Ballistics matched this gun as the murder weapon. The owner of the car told investigators that two teenagers borrowed the rifle before the murders. He implicated 16-year-old Allesandro "Alex" Garcia and 17-year-old Jonathan Doody.
Doody and Garcia were high school classmates both living in Garcia's home. In a search of Garcia's home deputies found some of the stolen items from the temple.
Doody was known by several of the victims, his brother and mother were members of the temple, but neither were there the night of the shootings.
The conviction was based on Doody's improperly obtained confession
Allesandro "Alex" Garcia pleaded guilty in the case and was sentenced to life in prison in exchange for his testimony and a promise that prosecutors wouldn't seek the death penalty against him.
The Thailand-born Doody was originally convicted in 1993 but once again, like the 'Tucson Four,' coerced confessions played a role when a federal appeals court threw out the conviction in 2011 The court said the conviction was based on Doody's improperly obtained confession. Doody was questioned by investigators and after 12 hours admitted his involvement. The appeals court ordered a re-trial.
Doody's second trial ended in October 2013 with a deadlocked jury.
In the third and last trial, Doody did not testify, but Garcia did, telling the jury that it was Doody's idea to rob the temple and ordered that no witnesses be left, and that it was Doody that fired the fatal shots.
Prosecutors outlined the coldness of the murders by saying, "There was no second-guessing, no consideration about what he was about to do. Simply put, nine human beings stood in the way of the defendant and his dream car. So they had to die."
Doody's defense team fired back saying that state's case was based solely on the testimony of Garcia, a convicted murderer who was spared the death penalty in exchange for his testimony against Doody.
Defense attorney Maria Schaffer called Garcia a cunning manipulator, saying there would be no case without his testimony.
In March of 2014, a jury found Doody guilty of the murders and he was sentenced to life in prison.
Capital punishment was not an option for prosecutors since Doody was 17 at the time of the murders.
The Temple Today:
Today, 25 years later, the monks of the Wat Promkunaram Temple continue their mission, "to provide a suitable, safe and peaceful environment for the practice and study of Southeast Asian Theravada Buddhism for both education and spiritual growth in the United States."