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Many people want justice when they are attacked; it is unusual to hear someone forgive their shooter. Despite this, Mark Stroman was forgiven by his victim.For nine years, Stroman, who called himself “Arab Slayer,” has been on death row in Texas. But, his time is soon to end.
Fighting for his life is Rais Bhuiyan, 37, the man Stroman shot in the face and blinded in his right eye. In the days following September 11, 2001, the gunman attacked three people, killing two of them. He was targeting anyone he considered an “Arab,” calling it revenge for 9/11.
It was a Friday around noon when Stroman walked into a gas station shop and pointed a double-barreled shotgun at Bhuiyan. Since he has been robbed before, Rais quickly offered money from the cash register. However, that was not Stroman’s target.
”He asked me ’where are you from?’ and that’s a strange question to ask in a robbery,” Rais said. ”As soon as I said ’excuse me?’ I heard an explosion and felt the sensation of a million bees stinging my face.”
Rais, a Bangladeshi-born naturalized U.S. citizen, played dead until his attacker left. After many operations, losing sight in his right eye and with shotgun pellets still embedded in his face, he has been campaigning to prevent his attacker from being put to death.
”What Mark Stroman did was a hate crime, and hate crimes come from ignorance,” Rais said. ”His execution will not eradicate hate crimes from this world. We will just simply lose another human life.”
Stroman killed two other men in a similar fashion—Vasudev Patel, an Indian immigrant who was Hindu and Waqar Hasan, a Muslim born in Pakistan. They were both shot as they stood behind a counter.
A week before the death sentence was due to be carried out, Stroman spoke publically about what he did, why he did it and what he thought about Rais fighting for him.
“I was an uneducated idiot back then and now I’m a more understanding human being,” Stroman said through the black telephone handset, from behind a thick pane of glass in the death row visiting room at the Polunsky Unit, Livingston, Texas.
“At that time here in America everybody was saying ‘let’s get them’ – we didn’t know who to get, we were just stereotyping. I stereotyped all Muslims as terrorists and that was wrong.”
Rais Bhuiyan is a Muslim and he thought deeply about what had happened and what he wanted to do with his plea.
”This campaign is all about passion, forgiveness, tolerance and healing,” he said. ”We should not stay in the past, we must move forward. If I can forgive my offender who tried to take my life, we can all work together to forgive each other and move forward and take a new narrative on the 10th anniversary of September 11.”
Despite Rais’ pleas for clemency, Stroman was executed on Wednesday, July 20. In the morning, he was allowed to meet with family and friends for a final time.
Attorneys for both Stroman and Rais fought for Stroman’s life on Wednesday in the courtroom. However, after unsuccessfully appealing to the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office and Texas Governor Rick Perry, Rais’ appeal for Stroman’s clemency was again denied by a federal judge.
Groups from across Texas, including Dallas’ Texas Coalition Against the Death Penalty (TCADP) Chapter, came to Huntsville to protect the execution and what they said was a violation of victim’s rights.
Before his death at 8:59 p.m. on July 20, Stroman was allowed to make a final statement.
“Even though I lay on this gurney, seconds away from my death, I am at total peace. May the Lord Jesus Christ be with me. I am at peace. Hate is going on in this world, and it has to stop. Hate causes a lifetime of pain. Even though I lay here, I am still at peace. I am still a proud American, Texas loud, Texas proud. God bless America. God bless everyone.
Let’s do this damn thing. Director Hazlewood, thank you very much. Thank you everyone. Sparky, I love you, all of you. I love you, Conna. It’s all good. It’s been a great honor. I feel it, I am going to sleep now. Goodnight. 1, 2, there it goes.”