The Arizona Republic - 1994 - Article with Citation



Date: July 16, 1994

Section: Front

Edition: Final Chaser Page: A1

Word Count: 1037

Author: By Brent Whiting, The Arizona Republic

Index Terms: MULTIPLE



Mass-murderer Alessandro ''Alex'' Garcia on Friday got the same break that he gave his 10 victims.


Garcia, 19, one of two young men who massacred nine people at a Buddhist temple in August 1991, was sentenced to 271 years in prison.

It was the maximum term possible under a 1993 plea bargain reached with prosecutors in the temple slaying and an unrelated murder in October 1991. That deal spared Garcia's life in return for his testimony against co-defendant and high-school chum Jonathan Doody. Defense attorney Luis Calvo had argued for some leniency. But prosecutor Paul Ahler argued that the temple murders, the worst massacre in modern Arizona history, represent too much to forgive and forget.

Judge Gregory Martin of Maricopa County Superior Court agreed with Ahler, saying Garcia got the only break he deserved when he struck the plea deal.

''It's the court's intent that he not be released from prison, ever,'' Martin said.

Before announcing sentence, the judge asked Garcia whether he had anything to say. ''Nothing,'' Garcia replied without emotion. Calvo argued that Garcia has hopes of rehabilitation, even though his ''dirty hands are forever stained by the blood of these victims.'' He told Martin that Garcia deserved some kind of break from the court for his cooperation with authorities that led to the release from jail of five innocent suspects.

They were the ''Tucson Four,'' four Tucson men who were arrested in the temple case, and a drifter who was jailed for more than a year in the campground slaying of Alice Cameron of Cave Creek.

Ahler, chief deputy Maricopa County attorney, told Martin it would be ''frightening'' to impose a sentence that ever could result in Garcia's release. ''There is just too much here to forgive or forget,'' he said.

Garcia left the courtroom without making eye contact with his parents, Juan and Gloria Garcia. He later declined a request for a jailhouse interview. Outside the courtroom, Juan Garcia told reporters that the maximum sentence was ''not a surprise,'' but he said his son deserved ''some time of benefit'' for cooperating with authorities. He said his son will leave prison either ''a dead man or very old.''

Gloria Garcia sent a letter to Judge Martin describing her son as shy, quiet and sensitive. She added that she has ''spent many hours searching for clues'' to understand his murderous rampage. Helen Fletcher, Cameron's sister, traveled to Phoenix from her home in St. Louis so she could be in court Friday, urged Martin to send Garcia to prison for the full 271 years ''so that he can never again walk among innocent people.''

Alex Garcia got 10 fewer years than co-defendant Doody, now 20, who was found guilty of the temple massacre in a 1993 jury verdict. Although the prosecution sought the death sentence for Doody, Martin in February gave him 281 years in prison. The judge reasoned that couldn't order Doody's execution because he couldn't conclude beyond a reasonable doubt whether it was Garcia or Doody who fired the .22-caliber rifle that killed the six Thai Buddhist monks, a nun, a monk-in-training and a temple worker.

Garcia, taking the stand in Doody's trial, admitted wounding four of the nine victims with shotgun blasts but told jurors that Doody used the rifle to shoot all nine victims execution-style in the head. The massacre by Garcia and Doody, classmates and Air Force ROTC students at Agua Fria High School, began as a robbery of Wat Promkunaram, a Buddhist temple near Luke Air Force Base in the west Valley. Dressed in surplus military clothing, Garcia, then 16, and Doody, then 17, ransacked the temple and killed everyone inside. In a letter to court officials, M.L. Birabhongse Kasemsri, the Thai ambassador to the United States, said the massacre had aroused ''a wave of emotional reaction'' in his country, but that revenge was not being sought against Garcia.

''We look forward to a rebirth of faith and compassion, which may have been temporarily overlooked when the incident first came to light,''

Kasemsri told an adult probation officer for the county. The temple case took several bizarre twists before its conclusion. In what Maricopa County Rick Romley has described as a ''bungled investigation,'' the four Tucson men were arrested in the case in September 1991 after falsely confessing to the crimes. They immediately claimed coercion but were held 2 1/2 months until a .22-caliber rifle recovered by investigators was linked to Garcia and Doody.

Maricopa County later was sued over the arrests, resulting in a $2.8 million out-of-court settlement that the county Board of Supervisors approved this year.

Two of the four, Mark Felix Nunez and Leo Valdez Bruce, were paid $1.1 million each. The third man, Dante Parker, got $240,000, as did Victor Zarate, who was released sooner than the others. A fifth person, Romelia Duarte, the mother of Nunez, got $120,000. Duarte, who was in court Friday for Garcia's sentencing, said her son

never should have been arrested. ''It's over, thank God, it's over,'' Duarte said. ''This was a nasty story, a very nasty story.'' After Garcia struck a plea bargain in the temple case, he admitted that he and a girlfriend, Michelle Hoover, had murdered Alice Cameron, 50, at a campground north of Phoenix in October 1991. His confession led to the release of George Edward Peterson, 47, a mentally troubled man who had been charged in Cameron's murder and jailed for 14 months. Earlier this year, the county agreed to shell out $1.1 million to settle a lawsuit filed by Peterson. Hoover, who was 14 at the time of Cameron's murder, said she killed Cameron after Garcia suggested she prove her love for him. She pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced last year to 15 years in prison.

Graphic: Color photo


Alessandro Garcia / His life was spared in a plea deal for his testimony against Jonathan Doody.

Copyright 1994 Phoenix Newspapers Inc.

Accession Number: 9407240001



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