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Youth Pleads Guilty to Buddhist Massacre : Murder: He agrees to testify against accomplice in deal that spares him the death penalty. Slayings in Phoenix temple had been well-planned.

January 07, 1993|LAURA LAUGHLIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

PHOENIX — A 17-year-old youth pleaded guilty Wednesday to nine counts of first-degree murder in connection with the August, 1991, massacre of six monks and three others at a Buddhist temple.

Alessandro (Alex) Garcia told Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Gregory Martin that he and his friend, Johnathan Doody, acted alone in the robbery and killings at the Wat Promkunaram temple west of Phoenix.

Garcia, of Phoenix, said he and Doody, 18, decided in June, 1991, to burglarize the temple. They spent two months working out the details, including what weapons, clothing and equipment they would use, he said.

"Part of our plan was to leave no witnesses," he said.

In a plea agreement that allows him to be spared the death penalty, Garcia agreed to testify against Doody, a former high school classmate who Garcia claims fired the fatal shots.

Six Thai monks, a 71-year-old nun, a temple helper and a 16-year-old novice monk were shot execution-style in the worst mass-murder in Arizona history.

The subsequent investigation took some strange turns. About a month after the murders, the county sheriff announced the arrests of five Tucson men in connection with the crimes.

"We are convinced we have the suspects that committed this crime in custody," Sheriff Tom Agnos said at the time. Authorities said four of the suspects had confessed. But all of the suspects soon recanted, saying they had been forced to admit to the murders after hours of exhaustive interrogations at a Phoenix hotel. Agnos was later voted out of office.

Meanwhile, Garcia and Doody were arrested in Phoenix. Authorities announced that Garcia and Doody also admitted involvement in the crimes.

Investigators could find no solid evidence connecting the Tucson men with the crime or with the Phoenix juveniles. But goods stolen from the temple as well as two guns used in the slayings were linked to Garcia and Doody. A month after the teen-agers were arrested, charges were dismissed against the Tucson suspects and they were freed.

Once they were ordered tried as adults, the juveniles argued that their confessions also were coerced. But Martin ruled in November that their statements would be admissible at trial.

Garcia showed no emotion as he described for Martin how he and his friend spent two hours collecting cash, jewelry and electronics equipment from the temple before shooting its occupants to death. Garcia said Doody shot each of the nine in the back of the head with his .22-caliber semiautomatic rifle while Garcia fired four rounds from his 20-gauge shotgun.

Garcia also told the judge that the Tucson suspects "had nothing whatsoever to do with the case."

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