For the third time, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday that a Thai teenager's confession to the 1991 slayings of nine worshipers at a Buddhist temple near Phoenix was coerced and invalid.
The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held its ground in overturning the conviction of then-17-year-old Johnathan Doody despite a directive from the U.S. Supreme Court to reevaluate its decisions last year and in 2008.
The appeals court ruled that Maricopa County sheriff's deputies distorted their reading of Doody's Miranda rights, telling him he was entitled to an attorney only if he had committed a crime.
The 8-3 ruling by a full panel of the western appeals court was identical to one the judges issued last year, deeming Doody's confession to the killings after 13 hours of interrogation involuntary and inadmissible in any subsequent trial of the now-36-year-old defendant.
Arizona authorities had appealed the 9th Circuit's ruling last year to the Supreme Court, which sent the case back with an order to reconsider whether the confession should be judged as voluntary in light of a similar case from Florida in which the high court ruled that a suspect's confession was valid.
Wednesday's ruling said the 9th Circuit judges reviewed the high court's position in Florida vs. Powell, about a criminal defendant's right to have an attorney present during interrogation, but still concluded that Doody's rights were violated. The appeals court ordered Arizona authorities to free him or try him again for the killings without the confession.
"We will appeal the case again," said Amy Rezzonico, spokeswoman for Arizona Atty. Gen. Tom Horne said.
Judge Richard C. Tallman, an appointee of President Clinton writing in dissent for himself and the only two Republican appointees on the 11-judge en banc panel, accused his 9th Circuit colleagues of repeatedly ignoring the Supreme Court's orders to respect the judgments of state courts in habeas cases, in this case the trial court's determination that the confession was voluntary.