DEALING WITH A CONFESSED SERIAL KILLER

As a writer, all you can do is pick a street and go for the ride, putting things down as they come at you.

--Tim O'Brien, The Things They Carried

Judge Gregory Martin leaned forward in his chair. Martin enunciated each word with great care. The young man standing before him had admitted to taking part in ten murders. "Tell me what you did that makes you guilty of these ten crimes." Judge Martin's voice sounded hollow, even hesitant. It was as though he were holding Yorick's skull in his hand and playing Hamlet on the legitimate stage.

Alex Garcia, 17, a former student at Agua Fria High School, held three white sheets of paper in his hand. For the level of emotion Garcia displayed, his handwritten remarks might have been nothing more than a weekly essay-writing assignment.

Garcia is six foot three inches tall. He weighs 220 pounds. He wore a blue denim jail suit. His hair was pulled back in a ponytail. Garcia might have been portraying John Steinbeck's unfortunate semilunatic, Lenny, in Of Mice and Men.

What Garcia read stands as a remarkable document. Unfeeling and compressed, it is comparable in length to Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

Garcia read without faltering:
"Your Honor, in June of 1991, Johnathan Doody and I got together and planned to rob and burglarize the Thai Buddhist temple.

"During the planning of June, July and early August, we obtained clothing, equipment and guns which were to be used in the robbery and burglary.

"Part of our plan was to leave no witnesses. On the evening of August 9, 1991, we started to put our plan in action.

"Johnathan and I drove to the temple. I was armed with a 20-gauge pump shotgun. Johnathan was armed with a .22-caliber semiautomatic rifle. We entered the temple without permission, armed with the rifles I just told you about.

"Johnathan and I entered the temple with the intent to rob, burglarize and kill the people inside. We were inside the temple for about two hours.

"During that time, Johnathan and I took property and money from the people living at the temple. This included cameras, stereos, jewelry, money and other property.

"We didn't have permission to take this property. Before leaving the temple, Johnathan told me, 'No witnesses.' "I told him, 'Robbery is one thing, but murder is another.'

"Johnathan repeated to me that there could be no witnesses.
"He then stepped to my right and, while armed with the .22-caliber rifle, began shooting the nine occupants while they were laying on the floor. I began firing my 20-gauge shotgun, but fired not to kill anyone. I fired four rounds from my shotgun toward the nine people laying on the floor.

"We both then ran from the temple with the property and money we stole.
"About two and one half months later, we were arrested. Before our arrest, the police arrested four men from Tucson and charged them with the murders that Johnathan and I committed at the temple. These four men had nothing to do with the case that has become known as the Temple Homicides. "Johnathan and I committed these crimes by ourselves. For this I am deeply sorry." Garcia spoke each word without displaying the slightest sign of human emotion. Not once did he falter.

As he spoke, a television pool cameraman, seated in the front of the jury box, recorded his words. There was a still photographer in the jury box, too, acting as a pool representative for the newspapers.

During Garcia's recitation, not a single person in the packed courtroom made a sound.

I sat off to the side, in the front row. Halfway down the aisle was Dennis Wagner, the excellent daily columnist for the Phoenix Gazette. He scribbled notes rapidly with a No. 2 lead pencil with his left hand. Gazette court reporter J.W. Brown, dressed in a plaid suit, was next to Wagner. Lynn Debruin of the Mesa Tribune was there, too. Reporter Abraham Kwok of the Arizona Republic, wearing a pink shirt and tie, sat on the other side of the room. The remarkable Kwok, who came to this country from China at age 11 and worked his way through the University of Arizona, speaks faultless English, with no trace of an accent.

Most of the television reporters viewed the proceedings from a monitor set up in a corridor outside the court.

Garcia's father, the career Army sergeant who had advised him to confess, was not present. Four members of the Buddhist temple sat in the second row. The delegation consisted of a man and three women. As Garcia read his statement, the three women appeared on the brink of tears.

It was as if that terrifying night stalker who had perpetrated perhaps the most heinous crime in Arizona history was no longer connected to the hulking figure who stood before us.

But, of course, Garcia was no longer holding a shotgun in his hands--merely a three-page confession.

Judge Martin asked K.C. Scull, the lead prosecutor, if he was certain Garcia was the defendant the county wanted to make its deal with. Scull is like a barrister out of Dickens. Beady-eyed and bearded, he has a middle-aged paunch and an offensive, self-important air about him. Scull bolted from his chair. In an oily voice, he told Judge Martin that Garcia was indeed the man with whom the county had chosen to make its deal.

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