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9/11 aftermath: Death sentence for Sodhi's killer

Last updated on: October 10, 2003 09:27 IST

A jury deliberated for a little over a day before deciding on the death penalty to a man who killed a Sikh gas station owner in retaliation for the terror attacks of September 11, 2001.

The jury convicted Frank Silva Roque (44) of first-degree murder and sentenced him to death for killing Balbir Singh Sodhi (49), an immigrant and father of five.

The five-week trial drew nationwide attention, as the first post-9/11 hate crime to attract the death penalty.

The Sodhi family, waiting at home for the jury's decision, said they were relieved that the trial was over.

"We are not celebrating. It is not the Sikh way to rejoice at other people's misfortune," Lakhvinder 'Rana' Sodhi, Balbir's brother, told "But, on the other hand, this is justice."

He said the decision vindicated the family's belief in the American system of justice. "We are honoured to live in a country where the legal system prevails," he said. "My parents will be at peace –knowing we live in a safe country."

He said the Sodhi family would pray for Roque and his family. "We hope his family will not have to suffer guilt at what he did," Sodhi said.

Earlier, the jury had found Roque guilty on six counts, including attempted murder, drive-by shooting and endangerment.

Roque's attorneys attempted a controversial 'guilty except insane' defense by saying Roque had a family history of schizophrenia.

But prosecutors argued Roque was a lifelong racist who aimed to exact vengeance for the September 11 terror attacks. They said he mistook Sodhi for an Arab because of his turban and beard.

Earlier this week, court-appointed psychiatrist Dr Jack Potts, who had previously testified for the prosecution, made an about turn by saying Roque was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Claiming to have carried out additional research on the disorder, he said Roque's mental illness was worsened by the September 11 attacks. "Had September 11 not occurred, this horrific event would not have occurred," he said.

During his previous appearance in Maricopa County Court, he had said Roque knew what he was doing when he killed Sodhi. "Roque knew the wrongfulness of his actions," he had said.

It is an important distinction because Arizona law defines legal insanity by whether a defendant can tell right from wrong.

Potts provided a number of reasons why he believed Roque knew what he was doing when he killed Sodhi, pointing out that he sped away from the scene after the shooting and bent his license plate to avoid identification.

After killing Sodhi, Roque committed drive-by shootings at two other locations – a Lebanese-owned gas station and an Afghan family's home – in a 15-minute shooting spree.

The court was told that he shot nine rounds at the second gas station and that the Afghan family was living in a house he used to own.

Nobody was hurt in the second and third shootings.
Jeet Thayil