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Man convicted for killing Sikh post 9/11

August 15, 2006 19:56 IST

The Supreme Court in Arizona, United States, on Monday turned down the death sentence of a man convicted of killing a Sikh store owner three days after the September 11 terror attack on America.

Instead, the court sentenced Frank Silva Roque, who gunned down Balbir Singh Sodhi outside his convenience store in Mesa locality, to a life in prison without parole on the 'mitigating evidence' on Roque's mental condition and low intelligence.

'Taken as a whole, the mitigation evidence here raises a substantial question whether death is an appropriate sentence,' wrote Rebecca White Berch, vice-chief justice. 'When there is doubt about a death penalty, then it must be resolved in favor of life,' Berch was quoted as saying by the East Valley Tribune newspaper.

Sodhi moved to the US in 1989 and had at first worked as a cab driver in San Francisco but felt unsafe doing so amid stories of cabbie murders. He moved to Arizona later to be with his brother Harjit Sodhi who ran business.

On the afternoon of September 14, landscapers had just finished their work in the parking lot of the newly opened

gas station cum convenience store of Sodhi and asked him to come outside and inspect their work. The moment Sodhi came out, he was shot at by Roque.

When police arrested Roque later in the day, he proclaimed himself to be a patriot and complained that he was being arrested and not the terrorists. Apparently, Roque took Sodhi, with his turban and beard, to be a follower of Osama bin Laden.

"My brother was innocent," Harjit Sodhi told soon after the incident. "What was he guilty of -- that he looked like Osama bin Laden," he queried.

"Our dress is Sikh, we are Sikh," Harjit Sodhi, who at that time had lived in the US for 18 years, said, adding: "But our country is America -- we had our children here, we built our businesses here."

During the trial, prosecutors charged that killing was prompted by racism and hate by someone with a long-time drinking problem while the defense claimed he was mentally ill. A jury later rejected Roque's defense of insanity at trial and sentenced him to death after seeing him act apparently normal during police interrogation.

Suman Guha Mozumder in New York