|Killer of Sikh sentenced to death|
Jurors dismiss Roque's claim of mental illness in post-9/11 shooting spree
The Arizona Republic
Oct. 10, 2003 12:00 AM
Jurors sent a powerful message Thursday to the nation and the world by sentencing a convicted murderer to death for the slaying of a Sikh gasoline station owner gunned down in retaliation for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Dismissing arguments that Frank Roque, 44, is mentally ill, jurors decided that the Mesa machinist's disrespect for human life greatly outweighed his disputed mental capacity when he shot Balbir Singh Sodhi to death four days after terrorists killed more than 3,000 innocent victims.
"We were deciding if his life experiences outweighed his disrespect for human life that day," said Sarsif Wyckoff, one of the 12 jurors who sentenced Roque in Maricopa County Superior Court in Mesa. "I think he had problems, he had issues. I don't think they were serious enough."
Juror Donna Aldridge said a police interrogation tape of Roque denying the murder hours after his arrest and his coaching of his wife, Dawn, to tell detectives he was upset after the terrorist attacks convinced her that he was not mentally ill when he killed Singh Sodhi.
"It had a lot to do with his mental state. That showed me he wasn't really mentally ill," Aldridge said. "That, to me, showed he knew what he had done."
Singh Sodhi, 49, of Mesa, an immigrant from India, wore a turban in expression of his Sikh faith and was shot because Roque mistakenly identified him as Middle Eastern.
Roque's defense attorneys admitted he shot Singh Sodhi to death on Sept. 15, 2001, in Mesa, then committed two more drive-by shootings within a 25-minute span at an Afghan man's home and a Lebanese-operated gasoline station.
But defense attorney Dan Patterson argued that Roque was mentally ill and heard voices telling him to "kill the devils" after watching the World Trade Center towers collapse on television. He said Roque plunged into a psychotic episode and lost touch with reality because of stress from the terrorist attacks.
Convincing jurors to spare Roque's life was Patterson's and co-counsel Bob Stein's only goal after prosecutors refused to offer a plea deal for a life sentence.
"It was a heinous crime for the worst of reasons, bigotry and hatred," said Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley, who came to Judge Mark Aceto's courtroom to support the Sodhi family and congratulate prosecutors Vince Imbordino and Doc Shreve.
Romley called Roque's insanity defense "the excuse of the moment" and said he hopes the verdict will deter future hate crimes against minorities in a case watched by President Bush and the government of India.
"I think this speaks so well of our community. No matter how much the emotions run from September 11, we as Americans won't stand for this kind of hatred and bigotry," Romley said.
Although it was a difficult decision to order Roque executed, jurors said they relied upon the facts in the case, the law and their conscience.
"I think I made the right decision. I think we all did," Wyckoff said. "I think we'll all sleep well tonight."
Harjinder Kaur Sodhi, Balbir's wife, who came from India to attend Roque's six-week trial and does not speak English, tearfully hugged Romley's wife, Carol, after the verdict was read.
Family members said she is unable to sleep without medication and suffers from high blood pressure. She fainted twice during the trial.
Patterson shook his head as the sentence was read but left the courthouse without commenting. Roque, who takes a powerful anti-psychotic medication, sat impassively.
Harjit Singh Sodhi, Balbir's younger brother, said that jurors "adopted us a part of the community" and dispensed justice without regard to creed or color.
"We are part of our community. We are Americans," he said. "I can walk the street with my beard and turban."
He said the verdict shows he was right when he returned to India after immigrating to the United States in 1985 and described the country as "heaven on Earth," urging Balbir and other relatives to follow him.
A second brother, Sukhpal, was shot to death within a year of Balbir's murder while driving a cab in San Francisco. San Francisco police do not consider it a hate crime.
"I don't feel any guilt. Justice was done here. If justice was not done, we might feel differently," Harjit Singh Sodhi said.