The following is from an article that appeared in The Dallas Observer June 17, 2011. Rick Halperin, director of SMU's Embrey Human Rights Program, contributed expertise to this story.
June 17, 2011
By ANNA MERLAN
The Dallas Observer
On September 21, 2001, Rais Bhuiyan, then 27 years old, was working behind the cash register of a Texaco station in Pleasant Grove when a man wearing a bandanna, sunglasses and a baseball cap walked into the station holding a gun.
Bhuiyan, a slight, soft-spoken man with big eyes and a thatch of dark hair, thought he was being robbed. But instead of grabbing the cash from the till, the stranger did something odd. He asked a question.
"Where are you from?" the man demanded.
"Excuse me?" Bhuiyan replied.
So the stranger pulled the trigger.
Mark Stroman was 31 years old the day he shot Rais Bhuiyan. Stroman was an ex-con and meth abuser with previous convictions for credit card fraud, burglary, robbery and theft, and he'd been in trouble nearly all his life. By age 12, he'd already committed his first armed robbery. He'd done two prison bids by 2001, one for two years and another for eight. On September 15, 2001, he shot and killed Waqar Hasan, a 46-year-old convenience store clerk from Pakistan and a father of four. A week later, he shot Bhuiyan. And a couple weeks after that, on October 4, he murdered Vasudev Patel, a father of two and a clerk at a Shell station on Big Town Boulevard.
Yesterday, almost 10 years later, Bhuiyan stood in front of an audience of journalists and others in the Great Hall of SMU's Perkins School of Theology, dressed in a dark suit, a mint green shirt and a striped tie in muted colors. The only visible signs of his shooting are the sagging in his blinded eye and a slight stiffness in his face when he speaks. He was there to call for compassion on behalf of Stroman, the man who took his sight and the lives of two others.
"My mother taught me that if people hurt you, don't hurt them back," he told the audience, his voice occasionally breaking with emotion. "Today or tomorrow, they will ask for forgiveness."
Stroman was sentenced to death in April of 2002 for the slaying of Vasudev Patel (he was charged with the other two crimes, but only confessed to them after being arrested for shooting Patel). With his execution date scheduled for July 20, a little less than five weeks away, Rais Bhuiyan, his only surviving victim, is asking that he be spared and his death sentence commuted to life in prison.
"I strongly believe he was ignorant," Bhuiyan explained to the audience. "He couldn't differentiate right from wrong. ... By executing him now, we are losing everything." His Muslim faith, he said, teaches forgiveness, not vengeance.
Rick Halperin, director of the SMU Embrey Human Rights Program, also spoke, along with a number of other local religious leaders from both the Muslim and Christian communities. "This type of request from a victim is unusual," Halperin said of Bhuiyan's call for forgiveness. He said that the District Attorney's office usually approaches a victim's family to ask if they want a death penalty to be pursued. He said Mrs. Hasan had also submitted a signed, notarized letter to District Attorney Craig Watkins's office, echoing Bhuiyan's call for commutation.
Read the full story at DallasObserver.com.
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