New hope for Doody supporters
A US court rules the convicted monk-killer’s confession involuntary. By Wassayos Ngamkham, Saritdet Marukatat
The ruling by the Federal Court of Appeals in the United States is not a big win. But it gives lawyers and people working for Johnathan Doody a little light at the end of the tunnel in their bid to secure his release. The court ruled on Nov 20 that Doody’s confession to law enforcement authorities was ‘‘involuntary’’. But Doody’s lawyers admitted they had a long way to go to win the case. ‘‘Unfortunately that ruling does not lead to his immediate release,’’ said Victoria Eiger, from Doody’s legal team from law firm Dershowitz, Eiger & Adelson PC. The State of Arizona and authorities indicting him will fight back by asking the court to reconsider the ruling, she added. The case grabbed public attention here and overseas not only because Doody was Thai, but because of the cruelty of the murders at Wat Promkunaram in Phoenix. Doody was born Veerapol Khadkaew to Thai parents in Sung Noen district in Nakhon Ratchasima. After his father died, his mother Laead married Brian Doody, an American air force officer, and moved to Arizona. Johnathan Doody was studying at high school when the murders were committed. Nine people — six Buddhist monks, a novice, a nun and a layman — were shot in the back of the head and laid in a circle like the prayer wheel inside the temple hall on Aug 10, 1991. A nun was among the slaughtered, said Mano Laohavanich, who followed the case from the beginning when he was in the monkhood based in California, and then known as Mettanando Bhikkhu. The temple was sealed off for seven days while a police task force investigated the murders. Authorities believed that the mystery behind the killings was solved after four men from Tucson — who became known as the ‘‘Tucson Four’’ — were arrested. Police, however, were still searching for the murder weapon. The men were released after investigators found a .22 Marlin rifle which was later proven to be the gun used in the murders. It belonged to Rolando Caratachea, a student who shared an apartment with Doody, 17, and Alessandro Garcia, 16. Mr Caratachea told authorities he had loaned the gun to his roommates. That led to the arrest of the three and marked the beginning of a 34-day trial in 1994 which resulted in Doody being convicted on nine counts of first degree murder. ‘‘The state’s theory was that Doody hatched a plan to rob the temple, intended to murder the monks to conceal the robbery and enlisted Garcia to help him execute the scheme,’’ according to the report by his lawyers filed to the Federal Court of Appeals. Arizona authorities were confident that Doody’s conviction and Garcia’s guilty plea were sufficient to close the case, despite the defence argument that Doody did not know of the planned murders or robbery, which, in fact, involved up to 10 men. Doody’s lawyers and members of the public in the US and Thailand suspected the investigation had been closed in undue haste and doubted the fairness of authorities working on the case. ‘‘His conviction may result from religious and ethnic bias, while the real murderers are roaming free and may strike again,’’ the Thai House committee on justice and human rights said on Feb 12, 1994, one day after he was sentenced to life imprisonment. The committee also lodged a complaint about their concerns to the United Nations. Despite his life sentence, the ruling that Doody’s confession was ‘‘involuntary’’ gave his lawyers fresh hope. After losing two appeals in state courts, Doody’s only chance was the Federal Court of Appeals. His lawyers argued Doody was not properly given a Miranda warning, so the interrogation was defective. But their ace card was the assertion that the confession was not volunteered by Doody. ‘‘The key to our victory was, I think, the rightness of our position,’’ said Ms Eiger. ‘‘Johnathan Doody’s confession was coerced and the audiotapes of the interrogation themselves showed that. If Arizona attempts to rehear the case at the Federal Court of Appeals, the state has a chance to go to the US Supreme Court. If its request is rejected by the Supreme Court, ‘‘the district court will enter an order directing Arizona authorities to retry Doody within a set period of time or to release him,’’ she said. Doody is 34. He has spent 17 years at the state prison in Florence, Arizona.