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Hate-crime victim fights to stop execution

July 20, 2011

This undated Texas Department of Criminal Justice handout image shows death row inmate Mark Stroman. Stroman is scheduled to be executed at the Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville on July 20 for the murder of two South Asian immigrants and the attempted murder of a third. The attack was motivated by the 9/11 attacks on the US. - AFP photo

WASHINGTON: Mark Stroman killed two men in a Texas rampage against Muslims after the 9/11 attacks, but one victim who was shot in the face and survived is trying to halt his attacker's Wednesday execution.

Days after the attacks of September 11, 2001 in the United States, Stroman's attorney says, the then 31-year-old stone cutter “could not go to the Middle East, so he turned on those who he thought were Middle Easterners who had come to the USA.”

One of the men he shot was Rais Bhuiyan, who lost an eye in the brutal violence but against all odds survived. But the Bangladesh-born Bhuiyan is seeking mercy, not revenge. He is demanding clemency for Stroman and is set to appear in court just hours before the convict is scheduled to be put to death.

The hearing is scheduled for Wednesday in the state capital Austin, where Bhuiyan has sued Texas Governor Rick Perry and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) in a bid to halt Stroman's execution.

Bhuiyan says his rights as a victim have been violated, and he wants the chance to speak with Stroman so that he can have a “healing dialogue,” said a source who is working with the victim and his organization, “World Without Hate.”

“The big question is, why are some victims heard when they cry for revenge, but other victims who cry for mercy are not?” said the source, who wished to remain anonymous.

According to the TDCJ, a victim has “the right to request victim-offender mediation coordinated by the victim services division.” The source says Bhuiyan has never spoken with Stroman but he has a lot of questions for the man who shot him nearly 10 years ago.

Just before 9/11 Stroman worked as a stonecutter and was a fan of the southern rock group Lynyrd Skynyrd, said his attorney Lydia Brandt during a final court appeal.

But after Stroman's sister allegedly died in the attacks, he became “emotionally overwhelmed,” fed by a pain that was quickly replaced by “rage.”

“He became obsessed with 'fighting back' against the Muslims who attacked America,” said Brandt. But according to Brandt, Stroman “would not know the difference between a Sikh and a Muslim, or between Arabic and Urdu.”

Four days after the attacks, Stroman killed his first victim in Dallas: Waqar Hasan was a Pakistani Muslim, and Stroman shot him without asking any questions. Hasan died instantly.

On September 21, Bhuiyan found himself face to face with Stroman at a gas station where Bhuiyan was working in the Dallas area. Seriously wounded, Bhuiyan miraculously survived a gunshot wound to his face, but lost the use of one eye.

The third and final victim of Stroman's rampage was Vasudev Patel, a Hindu. It is for Patel's death that Stroman was sentenced to capital punishment in April 2002. During his sentencing, according to images shown on CBS, Stroman did not hesitate to brandish an American flag and claim his affiliation with the Aryan Brotherhood, a group of white supremacists.

Nearly 10 years later and days before his scheduled execution in Huntsville, The New York Times interviewed a transformed Stroman.

“The hate has to stop, we are all in this world together,” he told the paper in its Tuesday edition. “We need more forgiveness and understanding and less hate.”

Stroman said he was touched by Bhuiyan, the immigrant he had tried to kill and who is now leading the efforts to save Stroman's life.

“Mr. Rais Bhuiyan, what an inspiring soul,” told the Times. Bhuiyan, a practicing Muslim, is campaigning to stop the execution and commute Stroman's sentence to life in prison.

In the Times, Bhuiyan attributed his views to his upbringing. “My parents raised me with good morals and strong faith. They taught me to put yourself in others' shoes... Even if they hurt you, don't take revenge,” he said. “Forgive them. Move on. It will bring something good to you and them.”

But appeals have failed, and on June 27 the US Supreme Court refused an additional delay to Stroman's execution, which is scheduled to be carried out at 2300 GMT Wednesday.

Last week Bhuiyan brought about his lawsuit in an effort to stop the execution, and the Wednesday morning hearing is set to go before a federal judge in Austin.

Appearing on the verge of tears in a story aired by CBS late Monday, Bhuiyan pleaded, “Please show mercy. Please spare the life of Mark Stroman.”