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Arizona man convicted of murder in nine Buddhist temple deaths

By David Schwartz

PHOENIX (Reuters) - An Arizona man was convicted on Thursday of the execution-style killings of nine people, including six monks, at a Buddhist temple near Phoenix in 1991, in what remains the deadliest mass murder in the state's history.

Johnathan Doody, 39, was found guilty of nine counts of first-degree murder, nine counts of armed robbery and one count each of burglary and conspiracy by a Maricopa County Superior Court jury following a month-long trial.

"Today's verdict confirms that the passage of time has not obscured the guilt of this defendant, nor has it diminished our commitment to seek justice for the nine innocent victims whose lives were senselessly taken," Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said following the verdict.

"We now look forward to the imposition of an appropriate sentence that will hold him accountable for this horrible crime," he said.

The same jurors also found aggravating factors in the killings, meaning Doody may receive a harsher prison sentence. He is not eligible for the death penalty because he was 17 at the time of the killings at the Wat Promkunaram temple in Waddell, Arizona.

The Thailand-born Doody faces a maximum of life in prison when he is sentenced on March 14 for the crimes, which became known as the "temple murders" in a case that has drawn attention to police tactics used to solicit confessions.

Doody was originally convicted in 1994 of the execution-style slayings, but a U.S. appeals court threw out the decision in May 2011, saying it was based on a coerced confession. A retrial ended in a mistrial in October 2013, when the jury deadlocked.

The bodies of six monks, a novice, a nun and a temple boy were found face down in a circle in August 1991, each killed by a gunshot to the head. Their living spaces had been ransacked and personal property stolen.

Acting on a tip, sheriff's investigators initially arrested four men from Tucson, who were interrogated at a Phoenix hotel room until they confessed. They later recanted and all charges were dropped.

Doody and a high school friend, 16-year-old Alessandro "Alex" Garcia, later came under suspicion when a .22-caliber semiautomatic rifle owned by a friend was found during an unrelated vehicle search and identified as the murder weapon.

Doody was questioned by investigators for 12 hours in October 1991 and admitted to his involvement. Garcia said Doody was the mastermind of the plan to rob the temple.

Garcia pleaded guilty to nine counts of first-degree murder in 1993 and was sentenced to 271 years in prison.

He has testified that Doody masterminded the robbery, ordered that no witnesses be left and fired each fatal shot. Defense attorneys have disputed those claims, saying there were no corroborating witnesses to place Doody there that day.

(Reporting by David Schwartz; editing by Dan Whitcomb, Amanda Kwan and G Crosse)

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