Murder of Balbir Singh Sodhi
Balbir Singh Sodhi (1952 – September 15, 2001), 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.
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.
On September 11, 2001, members of al-Qaeda, a militant Islamist group, hijacked four airplanes and perpetrated the September 11 attacks, killing nearly 3,000 people. According to family members, Sodhi had been distraught because of the terrorist attacks.
The murderer of Sodhi, Frank Silva Roque was a Boeing aircraft mechanic at a local repair facility. Roque held a criminal record for an attempted robbery in California, and 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.
On September 15, 2001, the 42-year-old 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 Balbir Singh Sodhi, who had emigrated from India in 1989. Roque shot Sodhi five times from his truck with a .380 handgun, killing him as Sodhi was helping landscaper Luis Ledesma plant flowers around the edge of his gas station.
Roque, who apparently wanted revenge for September 11, 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. 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 that "They're investigating the murder of a turban-head down the street."
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.
Arrest, trial, conviction
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. 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.
On July 19, 2005 he 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. The trial was aired by Court TV in a 5-part series.
On August 4, 2002, less than a year after Balbir'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."
Notes and references
- "Remembering Victims of Hate Crimes". Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved 2013-07-05.
- Sodhi murder trial begins
- "Wisconsin temple shooting: Sikhs have been silent scapegoats since 9/11". the Guardian. 2012-08-06. Retrieved 2012-08-08.
- Chapter 6: Fears and Concerns of Affected, At-Risk Communities
- 9/11-tied slayer won't be executed; Kiefer, Michael and Walsh, Jim
- "DNSI Blog: Arizona Supreme Court Overturns Death Sentence for Frank Roque - Killer of Balbir Singh Sodhi". Korematsu.blogspot.com. 2006-08-15. Retrieved 2010-07-29.
- Balbir Sodhi memorial page on SikhNet
- East Valley Tribune, "Sikhs still living in shadow of Sept. 11", Sept. 16, 2005
- SikhNet, "Two Sodhi Brothers Shot in the backlash of 9/11; Death Penalty overturned"
- Divided We Fall, a film that features Balbir Sodhi's story