Rais Bhuiyan

Rais Bhuiyan looks on outside a US District Courthouse in Austin on Wednesday as his lawyer, Khurrum Wahid, discusses Bhuiyan’s attempts to stay the execution of a man who shot him in the face and killed two others in a post 9/11 convenience store shooting spree. The inmate, Mark Stroman, was executed Wednesday evening after U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel denied Bhuiyan’s suit.

Photo Credit: Thomas Allison | Daily Texan Staff

A man convicted of killing two people in Dallas in 2001 died by lethal injection Wednesday evening, despite pleas to stay the execution from a man who survived an attack by the murderer.

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel upheld the execution of convicted killer Mark Stroman on Wednesday afternoon. Yeakel said in a court order that he lacks jurisdiction to interfere with executions and the criminal justice system would be corrupted if the court granted Stroman clemency.

Rais Bhuiyan, the only survivor of Stroman’s post-9/11 shooting spree, announced a lawsuit last week against state officials claiming he was denied the right to mediation with his attacker. Bhuiyan, who was shot in the eye by Stroman while working at a Dallas gas station, said he didn’t learn he had the right to meet with his attacker until May.

Stroman, a former methamphetamine addict and white supremacist, claimed the alleged death of his half-sister in the 9/11 attacks led him to shoot three men he thought were Muslims. He killed two of them and received a death sentence for murdering Vasudev Patel, an Indian immigrant who was working at a Mesquite, Texas, gas station.

Yeakel heard from representatives of the state attorney general‘s office and Khurrum Wahid, an attorney representing Bhuiyan, at the U.S. District Court in Austin before making a decision.

“These men have been tied together for 10 years but kept apart by written law,” Wahid said. “Moving the execution date a few months isn’t really going to harm the state of Texas. It’s a stroke of a pen.”

Assistant Attorney General Cynthia Burton said in court that Bhuiyan did not have proper cause to ask courts to redraw the original order for execution and classified him as a third-party unrelated to Stroman’s murder trial. They also said the case should never have been moved from a state court, and the federal court did not have jurisdiction in cases involving execution. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals denied a further appeal, according to The Texas Tribune.

Because the case involves an active lawsuit and pending litigation, staff in the Office of the Attorney General declined to comment.

Wahid claimed in court that Bhuiyan was not informed of his right to communicate with Stroman until May, which violates his freedom of expression. Wahid said the case is not an attempt to reverse original rulings but to address victims’ rights. He said because Bhuiyan’s decision to request mediation was based on his Muslim belief, the state is also violating his constitutionally protected freedom of religion.

Bhuiyan told The Daily Texan his religion has been his primary strength in the years following the attack and the reason behind his pleas to grant Stroman clemency. He said family members of Stroman’s other victims also feel the convicted killer deserves amnesty.

“There is a reference in the Quran that says a person who believes in tolerance and forgiveness is closer to God,” said Nadeem Akhtar whose brother-in-law, Waqar Hasan, was Stroman’s other victim. “We don’t believe in revenge.”

Bhuiyan said despite the outcome, he plans to continue to educate the public on the consequences of hate crimes. Bhuiyan said he wanted to speak to Stroman “from his heart” and felt a meeting with his shooter would be the only way to recover from the attack.

“How can I find closure if Mark is gone?” Bhuiyan said. “He will be gone from this world forever. That will put me into another trauma and open another chain of mental agony.”

Printed on 07/21/2011 as: Man executed despite plea for clemency on his behalf

On July 20, Texas is scheduled to carry out the death penalty against Mark Stroman. One of his victims, Bangladeshi immigrant Rais Bhuiyan, has garnered international headlines by calling for Stroman’s life to be spared. Bhuiyan’s campaign colors my own ethnic identity, and I also plead Gov. Rick Perry to grant Stroman clemency.

Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, Stroman, a meth addict and Aryan Brotherhood member, wanted to enact revenge against people of Middle Eastern descent. In shooting sprees across the Dallas area, Stroman murdered two immigrant gas station workers, one Indian and the other Pakistani. He also shot Bhuiyan at a Texaco gas station ten days after 9/11, leaving the victim with injuries that led to the loss of his left eye and 39 pieces of metal embedded in his head.

At his trial in 2002 then 22 year-old Stroman remained defiant and unrepentant for his crimes. He claimed his murderous rampage was fueled by the loss of his half sister in the World Trade Center collapse – a claim investigators could not confirm. He made an obscene hand gesture in the courtroom at Bhuiyan’s family. He boasted of killing “local Arab Americans, or whatever you want to call them.”

He was sentenced to die by lethal injection by the state of Texas.

I felt struck by Bhuiyan’s story because it encapsulates the pain and idealism so familiar to Bengali immigrants in America. As a one year-old baby, I moved with my family to Texas from Bangladesh. While some Bengali immigrants from India and Bangladesh can comfortably settle into white-collar occupations, many others are relegated to dangerous, arduous jobs such as taxicab drivers and gas station clerks.

Like Bhuiyan, my father first encountered America with all of its hardships and few of its glories. We didn’t have a mattress at the time, so we slept on the carpet of our one-bedroom apartment. After working two full-time jobs (one hauling luggage in a hotel, the other cooking at a Denny’s in Houston,) Dad found a new job in a gas station. The hours were long and he often only came home for only three or four hours of sleep, but I don’t look back on those times with misery. I was too young then.

But one of my earliest memories was around age four, when I visited my father outside Memorial Hermann Hospital in 1993. That year, gunshot wounds from an armed robbery at Dad’s gas station had left him in a wheelchair for more than a month. His absence felt like a hollowed-out emptiness, a sense that what once was is what should be and that anything else was loneliness.

Standing outside that hospital with mom and dad in his wheelchair and hospital gown in a pitch-dark night during visiting hours, I felt complete. It felt reassuring to be next to the man with the same hair as me, the “big version” of myself. I was impatient for him to come home already, and I had no feeling (much less animosity) toward the robber. Being next to my father then was the only time in my life I felt hopelessly, undeniably secure.

I support the death penalty, and I don’t think Stroman’s evil deeds warrant seeing the light of a free sun again. But his children shouldn’t be bereft of hearing his voice or being near him. On his executionchronicles.com blog, a remorseful Stroman writes of being a “father of four awesome kids. Three girls and one boy – kids are pure innocence – and I can’t stand for anyone to harm or abuse them.”

Bhuiyan understands Stroman is partly a victim of circumstance. Bhuiyan wrote of Stroman in the Austin-American Statesman: “When he was a kid, about the kindest thing his mother told him was that she was $50 short on aborting him. His stepfather ordered him to hate people, and beat him every time he refused to get into a fight.”

Bengali immigrants are accustomed to hardship. We left a land of endemic poverty to forge a new identity in a country where we don’t even make up a tenth of a percentage point of the population. I grew up often being confused for Indian or Pakistani, and unlike Italian- or Irish-Americans, we are too recently arrived to have substantially contributed to the melting pot.

A Bengali cab driver in New York made national headlines as a stabbing victim during the ground zero controversy, but he bore no malice against his attacker. Last year, another Bengali immigrant drove nearly 50 miles to return $21,000 an unfortunate passenger had left in his cab. And in 2007, another Bengali also made news for defending a Jewish couple in a subway assault.

I hope Perry does the right thing and grants Stroman clemency. I also hope forgiveness and empathy are values that define Bengali culture’s influence on America.

Quazi is a nursing graduate student.

Danalynn Recer, an attorney for the Gulf Region Advocacy Center, speaks in front of the Heman Marion Sweatt Travis County Courthouse on behalf of Rais Bhuiyan. Bhuiyan survived being shot in the face by a man seeking revenge for a relative’s death during the September 11 attacks, and hopes to stop the execution of the man who shot him, which is scheduled for July 20.

Photo Credit: Allen Otto | Daily Texan Staff

In the wake of 9/11, practicing Muslim Rais Bhuiyan was attacked because of his religion. Remaining true to his faith, he believes he survived to save the man who shot him from execution scheduled for later this month.

Bhuiyan is in the process of filing a lawsuit against Gov. Rick Perry and other Texas officials claiming the state hasn’t recognized his right as a victim to have mediation with the perpetrator.

Bhuiyan, who moved to the U.S. from Bangladesh as an adult, was working at a Dallas gas station on Sept. 21, 2001 when an armed Mark Stroman entered and questioned Bhuiyan about his cultural background before shooting him in the face. Stroman claimed in court he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after learning his half-sister died in the 9/11 attacks. In Stroman’s attempts at revenge, he murdered Pakistani immigrant Waqar Hasan and Indian immigrant Vasudez Patel and attempted to kill Bhuiyan.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice has not responded to Bhuiyan’s request to meet with Stroman before his execution, which is scheduled for July 20. Bhuiyan is requesting the criminal’s life be spared.

Catherine Frazier, spokeswoman for Perry, said the governor’s office is aware of the case but has not received a formal lawsuit. Perry must receive a favorable recommendation from the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles in order to grant Stroman clemency, she said.

“This is a very unique case because [Bhuiyan] had the courage and strength to stand up for his beliefs,” said Danalynn Recer, executive director and attorney for the Gulf Region Advocacy Center. “Most don’t have this initiative and ability to never give up.”

Khurrum Wahid, Bhuiyan’s lawyer, said he hopes Bhuiyan’s case will be heard by Monday and Stroman will not face execution. Wahid said the uniqueness of the request was one reason he chose to represent Bhuiyan.

“He is portraying the true meaning of Islam, and it really cuts against the grain of all the negative stereotypes surrounding the religion,” Wahid said. “Islam does in fact say that if you are forgiving, you cannot want vengeance.”

Bhuiyan said at a press conference Thursday the families of the Stroman’s other victims also believe he should be allowed another chance at life. Bhuiyan said Stroman acted out of hatred when he committed his crimes and his execution would only perpetuate hostility in society.

“This country has suffered a lot,” Bhuiyan said. “We are living in fear, but if we work together we can break the cycle of hate. It’s not only Islam, but all religions that teach peace and to show mercy.”