Jonathan Doody was one of two youths convicted of the infamous temple murders, and he has been serving nine life sentences in state prison since his conviction in 1994.
"They used every trick in the book," his attorney, Alan Dershowitz, said. "They denied him the right to have a parent there. They created all the circumstances for false confession and they got it - a false confession."
Dershowitz, a Harvard law professor who has represented such high-profile clients as O.J. Simpson, Mike Tyson, Patty Hearst, Michael Milken and Claus von Bulow, said that he will seek to have Doody, now 34, released from prison pending his retrial.
But Kent Cattani, who handles appeals for the Arizona Attorney General's Office, said that he will ask the appellate court to reconsider the case en banc, that is by a larger panel of appeals court judges. And if that fails, the office will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to take the case, Cattani said.
But those courts can turn down the request, requiring the case to be retried.
"It's always difficult to retry a case 15 or so years down the road," said Assistant Attorney General Joseph Maziarz, who argued the case before the 9th Circuit.
In August 1991, nine people were found dead at Wat Promkunaram, a Thai Buddhist temple west of Luke Air Force Base. They had been arranged in a circle and shot in the head execution-style.
Sheriff's investigators under then-Sheriff Tom Agnos first arrested four men from Tucson and got them to confess to the crime, although it was later determined that they were not involved. Three of them later sued for false arrest, and the episode led to Agnos' loss to Joe Arpaio in the 1992 election.
Doody, then 17 and a junior in high school, was arrested after investigators linked him to the murder weapon. He was born in Thailand but moved to Arizona after his mother married an airman stationed at Luke.
Doody and some friends allegedly sneaked into the monastery, robbed the people worshipping there and then lined them up and shot them.
One of his alleged accomplices, Alessandro Garcia, implicated Doody and testified against him in trial. Both were sentenced to multiple life sentences in prison.
But Doody's appeal rested on a 12-hour interrogation at the hands of sheriff's detectives. According to the ruling, Doody was read his Miranda rights but refused to answer questions for hours before he finally admitted he was involved in the murders. The detectives did not allow his parents to be present during the interview.
At about 2:30 a.m., after six hours of relentless questioning, Doody finally said the word "yes" when asked if he had been at the temple.
A half-hour later, he broke down, and by the time the interview ended the next morning, he was sobbing.
"In short," the ruling says, "Doody paints an overall picture of downplayed warnings, a softly induced waiver of rights and conduct conveying the message that Doody would not be left alone until he confessed, all targeted at an unsavvy, increasingly sleep-deprived teenager."
A jury convicted him of all nine murders and other crimes, and he was sentenced to nine consecutive life sentences and additional years.
His appeals languished in the federal-court system for nine years.
Dershowitz became involved at the request of Doody's stepfather.