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9th Circuit Grants Habeas Relief to Teen Mass Murderer for Second Time

Posted May 6, 2011 2:33 PM CDT
By Mark Hansen

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A federal appeals court has reaffirmed its earlier decision to grant habeas corpus relief to a 17-year-old mass murderer whose petition it had been told to reconsider by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 7-3 en banc ruling, (PDF), held Wednesday that suspect Johnathan Doody's confession in the murder of nine people, including six Buddhist monks, was involuntary because Doody was improperly informed of his Miranda rights, the Recorder reported Wednesday.

Doody, then a 17-year-old high school student, was convicted of participating in the murder of nine people, including six monks, who were found shot to death in a Buddhist temple in Arizona in 1991. He confessed after being interrogated over a 13-hour period by a tag team of officers.

The appeals court had been told to reconsider its earlier decision in Doody's favor in light of the Supreme Court's Miranda ruling last year in Florida v. Powell, (PDF), which held that a suspect need not specifically be told of his right to have a lawyer present during questioning as long as the suspect was advised of his right to consult with a lawyer beforehand.

But the 9th circuit, in a majority opinion by Judge Johnnie Rawlinson, said the Powell decision didn't change its analysis of the Miranda warning given to Doody, which it said "completely obfuscated the core precepts of Miranda." It also said that the "relentless overnight questioning of a sleep-deprived teenager by a tag team of officers overbore the will of that teen," thereby rendering his confession involuntary.

Judge Richard Tallman, in a dissent in which he was joined by two other judges, accused the majority of ignoring "the shot [fired] across our bow" by the Supreme Court when it granted Arizona's petition for certiorari and vacated the 9th Circuit's original en banc decision.

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