A Dallas man was executed Wednesday night for killing a Mesquite convenience store clerk as part of a shooting spree that he said was in retaliation for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Mark Stroman, 41, said hate in the world needed to end and asked for God's grace shortly before the fatal drugs began flowing into his arms at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Huntsville Unit. He was pronounced dead at 8:53 p.m., less than an hour after his final court appeal was rejected.
Stroman claimed the shooting spree that killed two men and injured a third in late 2001 targeted people from the Middle East, though all three victims were from South Asia. It was the death of 49-year-old Vasudev Patel, naturalized U.S. citizen from India, that put Stroman on death row.
The lone survivor, Rais Bhuiyan, unsuccessfully sued to stop the execution, saying his religious beliefs as a Muslim told him to forgive Stroman. The courts denied his requests.
Stroman's execution was the eighth this year in Texas. At least eight other inmates in the nation's busiest death penalty state have execution dates in the coming weeks.
From inside the death chamber, Stroman looked at five friends watching through a window and told them he loved them.
"Even though I lay on this gurney, seconds away from my death, I am at total peace," he said. He called himself "still a proud American, Texas loud, Texas proud."
"God bless America. God bless everyone," he added, then turned his head to the warden and said: "Let's do this damn thing."
Feeling the drugs beginning to take effect, he began a countdown. "One, two," he said, slightly gasping. "There it goes."
Eleven minutes later, he was dead.
None of Patel's relatives attended the execution, and instead selected a police officer to represent them.
The execution was delayed for almost three hours before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals barred a state judge in Austin from considering Bhuiyan's lawsuit to block the lethal injection. The U.S. Supreme Court had rejected appeals earlier in the day.
Bhuiyan, in an unusual step, had asked the courts to halt Stroman's execution and said he wanted to spend time with the inmate to learn more about why the shootings occurred. The native of Bangladesh and a former convenience store worker lost sight in one of his eyes when Stroman shot him in the face.
"Killing him is not the solution," Bhuiyan said. "He's learning from his mistake. If he's given a chance, he's able to reach out to others and spread that message to others."
A federal district judge in Austin rejected the lawsuit and Bhuiyan's request for an injunction on Wednesday afternoon. His lawyers appealed to the Supreme Court, where Justice Antonin Scalia turned it down.
Stroman's lawyer, in a separate unsuccessful appeal to the Supreme Court, pointed to Bhuiyan's "significant surprise" and argued that attorneys during Stroman's trial and in earlier stages of his appeals were deficient for not illustrating "the path that led him to this violent frenzy."
Stroman was free on bond for a gun possession arrest when his shooting spree started. 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 show he told authorities he belonged to the Aryan Brotherhood, a white supremacist prison gang. Prosecutors also said 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 North Texas shopping mall.
Stroman more recently denied the white supremacist description. He also had avoided trouble in prison in recent years, said Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokeswoman Michelle Lyons.
Stroman blamed the shootings on the loss of a sister in the collapse of one of the World Trade Center towers -- although prosecutors said in court documents that there was no firm evidence she ever existed.
"I wanted those Arabs to feel the same sense of vulnerability and uncertainty on American soil much like the mindset of chaos and bedlam that they were already accustomed to in their home country," he said on a website devoted to his case.
He described his victims as "perched behind the counter here in the Land of Milk and Honey ... this foreigner who's own people had now sought to bring the exact same chaos and bewilderment upon our people and society as they lived in themselves at home and abroad."
But he also said he'd made a "terrible mistake out of love, grief and anger" and had destroyed his victims' families "out of pure anger and stupidity."
"I'm not the monster the media portrays me," he said last week from death row.
Besides 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.