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Arizona 'temple murders' retrial opens with jury selection

By David Schwartz

PHOENIX (Reuters) - Jury selection began on Monday in the retrial of an Arizona man convicted of shooting to death six monks and three others at a Thai Buddhist temple west of Phoenix in 1991.

Thailand-born Johnathan Doody, 39, was convicted in 1994 of the execution style killings, but a U.S. appeals court threw out the conviction, saying it was based on a coerced confession.

The grisly shootings at Wat Promkunaram temple, which became known as the "temple murders," brought international media attention to Arizona and focused a glaring spotlight on police tactics used to solicit confessions.

"This was just a horrific crime," said Gary Stuart, a veteran attorney who wrote a book about the murders. "The people who were killed refused to resist and participated peacefully in their own execution - it still boggles the mind when I think about it."

On August 10, 1991, investigators found the bodies of six monks, a novice, a nun and a temple boy face down in a circle, each killed by a gunshot to the head, according to court records. Their living areas were ransacked and personal property stolen.

Doody, then aged 17 and a high school friend, Alessandro "Alex" Garcia, then 16, came under suspicion after police identified a .22-caliber semiautomatic rifle as the murder weapon. The gun, which belonged to a friend of the two suspects, was recovered during an unrelated vehicle search.

Doody was brought in for questioning in October 1991 and admitted his involvement after 12 hours of interrogation. Garcia identified Doody as the "mastermind" of the plan to rob the temple, and said Doody had fired the fatal shots.

At trial in 1994, Doody was convicted and sentenced to 281 years in prison, while Garcia received 271 years for the murders and an unrelated homicide.

The conviction was tossed by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in May 2011, on the grounds that sheriff's investigators violated his rights and coerced a confession. The court ordered a retrial at the Maricopa County Superior Court in Phoenix.

Prosecutors retrying the case face a tough test convicting Doody without the confession that helped send him to prison and with little or no physical evidence linking him to the crime, several attorneys said.

The case could hinge on the testimony of Garcia, who testified against Doody in the original trial in exchange for avoiding the death penalty, attorneys said.

"We do not believe that the state can prove Johnathan Doody participated in the temple murders," Doody's attorney, Marie Schaffer, said. "The state will not prove he was at the temple at the time of the murders."

A spokesman for prosecutors declined comment.

(Editing by Tim Gaynor and Steve Orlofsky)

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