Murder of Balbir Singh Sodhi

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Balbir Singh Sodhi (1949 – September 15, 2001),[1] a gas station owner in Mesa, Arizona, was murdered in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks in the first of several cases across the United States that were reported to the police as acts of retaliation for the terrorist attacks. He was murdered by 42-year-old Frank Silva Roque, a Boeing aircraft mechanic at a local repair facility who held a criminal record for an attempted robbery in California. Roque had reportedly told friends and a waitress at a local Applebee's restaurant that he was "going to go out and shoot some towel-heads" the day of the attacks.[2]

Background[edit]

Born in Punjab, India, Balbir Singh Sodhi was a member of the Sikh religion. He immigrated to the United States in 1989 and initially resided in Los Angeles, where he worked as a taxicab driver. He later relocated to San Francisco, where he continued to work in that capacity. He saved enough money to buy a gas station in Phoenix, Arizona and moved there.[3]

On September 11, 2001, members of al-Qaeda, a militant Islamist group, hijacked four airplanes and perpetrated the the 9/11 attacks, killing nearly 3,000 people. According to family members, Sodhi had become distraught by the attacks.[citation needed]

Roque shootings[edit]

On September 15, 2001, Roque took his Chevrolet S-10 from the Wild Hare sports bar in Mesa, where he had reportedly been ranting about immigrants, and drove to the Chevron gas station owned by Sodhi. Roque shot Sodhi five times from his truck with a .380 handgun, killing him. At the time of the shooting, Sodhi was helping landscaper Luis Ledesma plant flowers around the edge of his gas station.[4]

Roque, who apparently wanted revenge for the 9/11 attacks, mistook him for an Arab because of the clothes he wore, his turban, and his beard. Roque then drove to a Mobil gas station 10 miles away. Twenty minutes after the first shooting, he shot at a Lebanese-American clerk from his truck, but missed.[3] Roque then drove to his former residence, which had been purchased by a local Afghan family, and fired multiple rounds at the outside of the house. After fleeing from the final shooting, Roque was reported to have gone to a local bar and boasted, "They're investigating the murder of a turban-head down the street."[5][1]

Within 25 minutes of Sodhi's death, the Phoenix police reported four further attacks on people who either were Middle Easterners or who dressed with clothes thought to be worn by Middle Easterners.[citation needed]

Arrest, trial, conviction[edit]

The police arrested Roque the next day, initially unaware of the later shooting incidents. He reportedly shouted slogans including "I am a patriot!" and "I stand for America all the way!" during his arrest.[6] His bail was set at $1 million.

Roque's trial by jury began on August 18, 2003. Defense attorneys argued he was not guilty due to insanity, claiming that he had a diminished IQ and heard relentless voices telling him that Arabs were satanic and must be killed. Two coworkers testified that Roque was "narrow-minded" and that he hated both immigrants and Arabs. Roque's defense attorney characterized him as mentally ill, and noted that his mother had twice been hospitalized for schizophrenia, a condition which has been shown to appear in those genetically predisposed to it.[2]

On September 30, 2003, he was found guilty of first degree murder, and was sentenced to death nine days later.

On July 19, 2005, Roque was found guilty of an unspecified conspiracy charge while in prison, specified only as a violent crime. On February 27, 2006, he was found guilty of having manufactured a primitive weapon in prison three days earlier. In August 2006, the Arizona Supreme Court changed Roque's death sentence to a sentence of life in prison without parole, citing low IQ and mental illness as mitigating factors.[7][8] The trial was aired by Court TV in a 5-part series.

Sukhpal Sodhi[edit]

On August 4, 2002, less than a year after Sodhi's death, his younger brother Sukhpal was shot to death while driving his taxicab in San Francisco, apparently killed by a stray bullet from a nearby gang fight. In response to this second tragedy, Balbir's son, Sukhwinder said, "What are you going to do with anger? We like peace and we are a peaceful people."[9]

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

External links[edit]