For the second time, a federal appeals court has voided the confession -- and conviction -- of a former teen in connection with the 1991 murders of nine people at a Buddhist temple in west Phoenix.
In an 8-3 decision, the majority of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals concluded Tuesday that Jonathan Doody, 17 at the time, was not properly informed of his legal rights. In fact, one of the judges said the warning he did get was so confusing as to be worse than no warning at all.
The ruling, unless overturned, means the state will have to retry Doody or release him.
In a dissent for himself and two others, Judge Richard Tallman said the combination of written and spoken warnings to Doody “reasonably conveyed’’ his rights to an attorney and to remain silent.
“The officers did not beat Doody,’’ Tallman wrote. The judge said he was held for 13 hours, not 13 days, was asked if he wanted his parents present and was told of his right to remain silent.
Most significant, Tallman said, was the Doody was not some 15-year-old living at home but was a 17 1/2-year-old commander of the ROTC honor guard living with his closest friend, “the provider of the murder weapon.’’
But Judge Jonnie Rawlinson, writing for the majority, said there was a lot of evidence that Doody was misled about his rights.
And Rawlinson said any questions about whether Doody’s confession was coerced need to be examined in the light that police got confessions from four Tucson adults to the exact same murders.
“That is the real elephant in the room (is) ... the undisputed evidence in the record that this same task force, undoubtedly using the same ‘courteous, almost pleading style of questioning’ extracted false confessions from four adults for the same crime with which Doody was charged,’’ Rawlinson wrote. “Is there any doubt that the wills of those individuals were overborne?’’
Prosecutors said Dody and another teen, Alessandro Garcia, went to the temple in hopes of stealing large amounts of gold they believed they would find. Investigators said the robbery netted $2,650 and some electronic equipment.
Doody admitted to being at the scene but said he remained outside. Garcia, who agreed to plead guilty, testified that Doody shot the victims in the head with a .22-caliber rifle as he watched from the doorway.
Six Thai Buddhist monks, an elderly woman described as a nun and two young men who helped or studied at the temple were killed.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Gregory Martin sentenced Doody to nine consecutive life terms, saying he could not be sure which of the youths actually fired the shots.
The 9th Circuit voided the convictions last year.
But the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the appellate judges to reconsider the case in light of a high court ruling in a Florida case where a criminal defendant claimed he had been improperly advised of his Miranda rights. Those rights, first codified in 1966, require suspected being questioned by police to be told of their right to remain silent, the right to consult with an attorney and the right to have that lawyer present during questions.
In that Florida case, the Supreme Court said the warnings given the defendant were sufficient.
Rawlinson, who had written last year’s decision, too, said a review of the record shows the warnings given to Doody were “far from clear and understandable.’’
Most significant, Rawlinson wrote, is that a detective told Doody he was entitled to an attorney only if he had participated in a crime.
“The implication from this improperly qualified, unclear, and confusing warning was that Doody only had the right to counsel if he were involved in a crime,’’ the judge wrote. “In such circumstance, the invocation of one’s right to counsel would be tantamount to admitting one’s involvement in a crime.’’
And Rawlinson said audio recordings show “an extraordinarily lengthy interrogation of a sleep-deprived and unresponsive juvenile under the relentless questioning for nearly 13 hours by a tag-team of detectives, without the presence of an attorney and without the protection of proper Miranda warnings.’’