HUNTSVILLE, Texas — It was about 12:30 in the afternoon. Raining. Few customers were in the Dallas convenience store when the man wearing a bandanna, sunglasses and a baseball cap entered.
Rais Bhuiyan still remembers the smallest details, almost 10 years after the day he thought he would die.
"He pointed a gun directly at my face," Bhuiyan said. "He asked me: 'Where are you from?' A strange question. I replied back: 'Excuse me?'"
Bhuiyan heard an explosion. "It felt like a million bees striking my face. ... It happened so quickly."
The Bangladesh native survived the shooting but lost sight in an eye. He identified the shooter as Mark Stroman, a two-time ex-con whose record includes an armed robbery at age 12. Stroman, 41, was tied to two other shootings, both of them fatal, in what he contended was a patriotic duty to kill people of Middle East descent in the days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
He is set to die Wednesday for one of them, the gunning down of Vasudev Patel, 49, in October 2001 at a gas station and convenience store in Mesquite, just east of Dallas. Patel had moved from India to Texas in 1983 and was a naturalized U.S. citizen.
In an unusual development, Bhuiyan has filed a civil lawsuit that was to be the subject of a federal court hearing Wednesday to halt the execution. The lawsuit says the state has ignored Bhuiyan's rights as a victim and his Islamic faith requires him to seek mercy and forgiveness for his attacker. Bhuiyan wants to meet Stroman to try to better understand why the shootings happened and begin what would be a lengthy formal remediation process.
The lawsuit has support from Stroman's appeals attorney who has cited it as reason to delay his execution. She also argued in an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court that Stroman's legal help at his trial and in earlier appeals was deficient and the high court should stop what would be the eighth lethal injection in Texas this year so the claims can be further reviewed.
Bhuiyan contends Stroman is a different person now, who has learned from his mistakes.
"By sparing his life, if he can touch one life, that is success," he said. "If he's gone, we are not getting anything out of this."
Stroman has avoided trouble in prison in recent years, said Michelle Lyons, a Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokeswoman. But in 2008, prison officials found a cell phone, charger, piece of metal sharpened to a point and what appeared to be marijuana in his cell. About the same time, he was written up by prison authorities for scratching an obscenity into some fresh paint in a visiting booth.
Stroman was free on bond for a gun possession arrest when his shooting spree started in 2001. He had previous convictions for burglary, robbery, theft and credit card abuse, served at least two prison terms and was paroled twice. His juvenile record showed an armed robbery at age 12.
When police arrested him the day Patel was killed, they found the 44-caliber handgun used in the shooting. Stroman confessed, and court documents said he told authorities he belonged to the Aryan Brotherhood, a white supremacist prison gang. Prosecutors also say he told another jail inmate about the shootings and how automatic weapons police found in his car were intended for a planned attack at a Dallas-area shopping mall.
Stroman has blamed the shootings on the loss of a sister in the collapse of one of the World Trade Center towers, although prosecutors say in court documents there's no firm evidence she ever existed.
"I remember sitting at home watching the nightmare on TV, and knowing she was on the top floors of the North Tower," Stroman said on a website devoted to his case. "Let's just say that I could not think clearly anymore, and I am sorry to say I made innocent people pay for my rage, anger, grief and loss."
More recently, he denied being a white supremacist, pointing out his wife was Hispanic.
"I'm not the monster the media portrays me," he said in an interview last week from death row.
Bhuiyan said the slain clerks' relatives agree Stroman should be spared, but prosecutors dispute that, saying Patel's widow "specifically informed the state she wishes to express no opinion regarding Stroman's impending execution." The Dallas County District Attorney's office also said Tuesday she does not want to speak to the media.
Along with Patel's slaying, Stroman was charged but not tried in the shooting death of Waqar Hasan, 46, a Pakistani immigrant who moved to Dallas in 2001 to open a convenience store. Hasan was killed four days after the terrorists struck. The attack on Bhuiyan came a week later.
"To be honest, I never hated him, even if he tried to kill me," Bhuiyan said. "I do look for good and move on. ... This is what my parents taught me when I was very young. Always try to forgive. ... Don't hurt them back."
Stroman's website: http://www.executionchronicles.org/stroman/index.htm