• Transcript
  • Show Notes

In this sixth and final episode of Doing Justice, Preet tells the story of Rais Bhuiyan, the victim of a white supremacist hate crime. Bhuiyan forgave the man who shot him and launched a global campaign to get his would-be-killer off death row. The justice system isn’t only about punishment, but also about closure and forgiveness.

To listen and subscribe to the whole series on Apple Podcasts, click here.

To listen and subscribe on Spotify, click here.

Click here to purchase the paperback of Doing Justice: A Prosecutor’s Thoughts on Crime, Punishment, and the Rule of Law, the bestselling book that inspired the podcast.

Doing Justice is produced in collaboration with Transmitter Media. This episode was written by Mitchell Johnson and produced by Shoshi Shmuluvitz and Dan O’Donnell. We had production help from Jessica Glazer. Our editor is Sara Nics and executive producer is Gretta Cohn. The executive producer at Cafe studios is Tamara Sepper. And the chief business officer is Geoff Isenman. Meral Agish  fact checked this episode. And Hannis Brown composed our original music and was our mix engineer for this series. 

Preet Bharara:

Where were you when the 9/11 attacks happened? 

Rais Bhuiyan: 

Well, the day 9/11 terrorist attack took place. Uh, it was my day off. 

Tuesday. I remember still. And I woke up around eight 30 in the morning. And what I saw on TV, I thought it was an upcoming Hollywood movie trailer. And then when the second plane hit the tower. That time I realized it’s no longer a movie trailer, something terrible happened.

Preet Bharara:

And when it became clear. Who were the, who the terrorists were, who killed almost 3000 people on 9/11. Did you have any feelings about that and about what people were saying about the fact that they were Muslim themselves?

Rais Bhuiyan: 

I cried. I couldn’t believe that, you know, um, seeing the horror– that how people could do these kinds of heinous crime and how people could hurt people like this. Yeah. And, um, I was angry. I was sad. And um, at the same time I felt, afraid. I feel fear.

Preet Bharara:

Rais Bhuiyan grew up in Bangladesh, but when he was 26, he moved to the United States. 

New York City. He was hoping to get a job in IT, and then, to bring over his fiance, who was back in Bangladesh.

After a couple of years, a friend invited him to move to Dallas.

Rais Bhuiyan: 

He invited me to visit Dallas, Texas, and, uh, growing up, watching wild, wild West movies. I could not resist the invitation to visit Dallas excited to see the ranches, cowboys, and bars with their famous swinging doors. Though I never did find one. 

Preet Bharara:

Instead of a wild west saloon, Rais started working at a gas station in a rough part of town. He was surprised that he liked the work.

Rais Bhuiyan: 

And I was excited that it would give me an opportunity to learn more about people, to get to know American culture and an opportunity to interact with people in Texas. 

Preet Bharara:

But it wasn’t an easy job. And it wasn’t safe. 

Rais Bhuiyan: 

It was 2:30 PM, In the middle of August and a customer walked in with a dollar bill and a soft drink. And he’s a customer,so I opened the cash register and he took out a gun out of his pocket, pointed at me and he said, give me the money. 

Preet Bharara:

It was so unexpected that at first, Rais didn’t understand that he was being robbed. 

Rais Bhuiyan: 

And I thought he wanted to sell this gun. 

Preet Bharara:

Rais assumed the man was looking to pawn his gun. Like it was an antique, or collectible. 

Because in that gas station, people would come to sell their computer monitor jewelry printer, name anything to make some quick cash. So I thought this guy wanted to sell his gun. And I said, how much you are asking for it? He said, give me the money. I said, yes, sir. But you’re not telling me how much you’re asking for. He said, no, no, no amigo, give me the money. I said yes. So we went back and forth three times and then he cocked the gun and pointed at my forehead and he said, I’m going to blow up your brain if you don’t give me the money right now. 

Rais Bhuiyan: 

And that time I realized, oh, I’ve been robbed. So I gave him all the cash, he left, and I couldn’t believe I was just robbed around 2:30 PM inside a gas station in my dream country.

Preet Bharara:

Our legal system is far from perfect, but there are some things it does really well — when there are good people to help it along. SueAnn, a sex worker in the Bronx, got justice against her attacker. A bunch of corrupt New York politicians and the men who bribed them, paid for their crimes. And Eric Glisson, who served 17 years for a murder he didn’t commit, finally got exonerated. 

But there are some things that the legal system just doesn’t do… that it’s not supposed to do. It’s not necessarily built to provide closure… forgiveness… redemption. 

I’m Preet Bharara and this is Doing Justice. Today… a story about a man trying to get the justice system to do something different. Something it wasn’t built for…

At the gas station, Rais often worked alone, sometimes on overnight shifts. Working in a gas station or convenience store is one of the most high-risk jobs in the US… right up there with police officer or prison guard. And for Rais–a brown man living in the deep red state of Texas–it got even riskier after September 11th. 

Rais Bhuiyan: 

Right after 9/11 people came to the gas station. You know, some of them are very angry saying a lot of, uh, bad things about immigrants, about foreigners, about Muslims.

I remember one day a guy came and, um, he asked me to open the pump, without paying up front and I said, I cannot do that.  

You have to pay up front. And then he came back with a baseball bat and he said, you know, how much this glass cost, and how much your life cost. And I was extremely afraid that you know, just for merely, you know, not opening the pump, he is threatening to kill me. 

Preet Bharara:

The guy with the baseball bat left.  But he wasn’t the only one who was angry– violently angry– after 9/11. Across town, a man named Mark Stroman was just out of jail. 

Stroman was a white supremacist. He said he was a member of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas… the state’s largest and deadliest prison gang– it’s been linked to dozens of murders of people of color in Texas prisons. There are members on the outside, too. 

Watching the towers fall, Stroman flew into a rage… it lasted for weeks. When he was out in his truck, he kept an eye out for drivers who looked Middle Eastern, and started running their cars off the highway. 

On September 15th, 2001, he grabbed his gun, got in his truck, and drove to a Dallas suburb. He walked into a convenience store, where a 46- year old Pakistani man named Waqar Hasan was grilling hamburgers. 

Stroman shot Hasan in the head, killing him… and left. 

The murder happened not too far from where Rais worked. 

Rais Bhuiyan: 

And when I saw that news, I was extremely terrified. I had nightmare three nights in a row. I saw myself getting shot in the gas station. 

Preet Bharara:

It was a Friday. It was raining cats and dogs since morning and business was pretty slow. 

Rais Bhuiyan: 

It was around 12:30 PM. Uh, I saw through the glass window that a man wearing a bandana and sunglasses and a baseball cap and holding something very shiny on his right side. And from my previous robbery experience, I realized that it would be another robbery. So I immediately open the cash register and put all the cash on the counter. He walked in and I said, sir, here is all the money. Take it, but do not shoot me. 

Preet Bharara:

But something was off… the guy didn’t even look down at the cash..

Rais Bhuiyan: 

I felt a cold air flow through my spine, why he was not looking at the money. He should have taken the money and ran quickly. 

Preet Bharara:

And then he mumbled a question. Where are you from?

Rais Bhuiyan: 

I thought he was here to rob me. Why he needed to know where I was from. And as soon as he asked me that question, I replied, excuse me. And I could not finish the entire sentence. He pulled the trigger from point blank range.

I felt it first, like a million bees were stinging my face and then I heard it, the explosion. And I looked down, and saw blood pouring like an open faucet from the right side of my head, and frantically and instinctively I placed both hands on my face thinking I had to keep my brains from spilling out. I heard myself screaming mom on top of my voice and then noticed the gunman is still standing there. And I thought, if I did not appear to be dying. He would shoot me again. So I fell to the floor. 

After he shot me, he did not say anything. He was standing and watching me. And, um, it’s a terrible feeling that. Somebody shoot you, you don’t know why and you’re bleeding, you are dying and that man is still watching you. 

Preet Bharara:

After Stroman left the gas station, Rais got up and ran to the barbershop next door. 

Rais Bhuiyan: 

I screamed, please call nine 11. I’m dying. And I don’t want to die today. 

And when he called nine one one, I caught myself in the mirror and I couldn’t believe that was my face. I had become disfigured and was losing blood rapidly and was fighting to stay awake, fighting to stay alive. 

Preet Bharara:

What do you remember about being treated in the ambulance?

Rais Bhuiyan: 

I was about to lose my consciousness. 

And, um, again, images of my loved ones started appearing one after another one. I was pretty much sure that my time was up. It’s time to say goodbye to everyone in this world. It was a terrifying moment just to feel that your time is up and you are about to go.

I started reciting from the Holy Koran, whatever verses I memorized so far.

Preet Bharara:

Two weeks passed, Rais was recovering, and the police were looking for Strohman, who was still out for blood.  

On Oct. 4th, 2001 at 6:45am, Stroman walked into another convenience store on the outskirts of Dallas. The owner, Vasudev Patel, was working the early shift. The store security camera shows Stroman demanding money from the cash register. When Patel reached under the counter for a pistol he kept there, Stroman shot first, and killed him. 

The next day, Dallas police finally tracked down Stroman. They found him sitting in his car outside of his house. Police swarmed Strohman, who got out of his car and tried to run. He pulled a Smith and Wesson from his waistband, but dropped it in the confusion. The officers who were there say he was laughing and crying at the same time.

Police found Stroman’s Thunderbird filled with weapons – a loaded semi automatic rifle with 150 cartridges, a sub-machine gun with 29 cartridges, a .44 Magnum, a .45 Colt, a bullet proof vest, Some pot and rolling papers, a pill bottle with cocaine, some muscle relaxer and an antidepressant. There was also a hat that said, “Show me your tits.” 

In the 24 days after 9/11, Stroman shot 3 people, and killed two of them. 

Rais Bhuiyan: 

And after he was arrested, he voluntarily told the news media that what he did, most Americans wanted to do. They just didn’t have the guts. He claimed himself as a true American, a patriot and he should be given a medal for his action. 

Reporter (archival):

He says he was a man on a mission to kill people of Middle Eastern descent following Sept 11. And he confessed his crimes to Fox News 4.

Mark Stroman (archival): 

I did this as an act of war, not in peace time. Now, if I’d done this prior to Sept 11th, yea. I’m a serial killer.

Reporter (archival):

Mark Stroman says he did it. And probably injured several other people too.

Reporter (archival):

He was white supremacist Mark Stroman.

Reporter (archival):

He would go out and look for people who looked like they were Muslims and he would just straight out shoot them.

Reporter (archival):

Mark Stroman, a white supremacist, wanted revenge so he went to three Dallas…

Rais Bhuiyan: 

As a result of this shooting incident, um, I lost vision in one eye. Uh, I received more than three dozen bullet fragments in the right side of my face and skull. I underwent several eye surgeries, one after another one, but ultimately lost a better than perfect vision in my right eye. 

Preet Bharara:

His face was healing, but the damage he suffered went deeper than just physical hurt. As Rais went through surgery after surgery, his fiancé left him. 

Rais Bhuiyan: 

I lost my home, my sense of security, my job, my fiance, but gained more than $60,000 in medical bills. 

Preet Bharara:

The mental, emotional psychological and financial recovery process was very painful because there was no loved one. There was no family member here to comfort me to provide support.

The trauma of the violent attack was still fresh 4 months later, when the trial began. The prosecution wanted Stroman to get the harshest punishment possible. They wanted the death penalty. Almost every year, Texas executes more people than any other state in the country. In order to get the death penalty, the prosecution would need to convince a jury that Stroman had committed capital murder. In Stroman’s case, that meant proving he’d intentionally killed someone in the course of a robbery. Because Stroman had demanded money from Patel, they limited their case to that murder. They didn’t try Stroman for the attacks on Rais Bhuiyan and Waqar Hasan. 

But the prosecution did ask Rais to testify… 

Rais Bhuiyan: 

I was extremely terrified to go to testify, and sitting on the witness stand and seeing the person who did this heinous crime, shot me in the face and took two innocent lives.

Preet Bharara:

For the first part of the trial, Rais sat in the courtroom as an observer, right across the room from the man who shot him… Stroman was a big guy– bald and covered in tattoos that Rais recognized from the shooting. 

Rais Bhuiyan: 

I tried not to look at him. Because I was afraid. Still I was afraid to see him face to face at that time.

Preet Bharara:

The prosecution called to the stand Vasudev Patel’s widow, some police officers, and some other people Stroman knew. When they were done, Stroman’s defense lawyer stood up and announced that the defense would rest its case. They made no argument for Stroman’s innocence. 

It took less than one hour for the jury to come back with their verdict. They found Stroman guilty. 

For the death penalty phase, the prosecution called witnesses to testify about Stroman’s character, building the case that he deserved to die. Finally, it was Rais’s turn to take the stand.  

Rais Bhuiyan: 

And when it was asked to, to point out the person in the courtroom who did this to me, and that time, I looked at him in the eye for a few seconds and I felt sad. I feel sad for me. And I felt set for him as well. And then the widows of Mr. Patel and Hassan, and I felt sad for everyone. And I testified and I said, yes, I see the person who did this to me. And I pointed him out in the courtroom.

Preet Bharara:

Stroman’s lawyer asked for a sentence of life in prison.

But it didn’t work. 

Rais Bhuiyan: 

He was sentenced to death by lethal injection and I was in the courtroom. To be honest with you, I did not feel anything at that moment. 

It brought some comfort that by this verdict by, you know, by putting him behind bars for us stuff at life and executing him at some point, he would never be able to hurt anyone anymore.

Preet Bharara:

Did you, do you remember if Stroman had a reaction in the courtroom?

Rais Bhuiyan: 

After he was given death penalty, he stood up. He showed his both thumbs and he said, God, bless America, something like that. 

Preet Bharara:

After the trial, Rais tried to get on with his life, he tried to forget about Mark Stroman. Stroman, meanwhile, spent a couple years alone in a cell on death row in Livingston, Texas. 

He didn’t get many visitors… then, a documentary filmmaker reached out.

Ilan Ziv:

And I kept writing to prison to try to secure an interview. And eventually you said, yes.

Preet Bharara:

Ilan Ziv was born in Israel, and came to the US in the 70s. He’s always been interested in human rights and social issues. 

Ilan Ziv:

Political, social, historical, It’s shifted a little bit, but it’s always within the political realm.

Preet Bharara:

He was working on a film about small groups fighting hate. 

Ilan Ziv:

That’s sort of what brought me to Texas to a particular group. And through them, I heard about Mark and about a hate crime. And I was intrigued. 

Preet Bharara:

In 2004, Ilan walked through the metal detectors and past the guards, to take his seat in front of Mark Stroman, just on the other side of the window. 

Ilan Ziv:

On death row, uh, you, you sit glued to a glass. He sits very close to the glass. I sit very close to the glass. So we have this proximity, which is not is not natural if you like

So there’s that kind of a forced intimacy if you like, intimacy through the glass, I can watch his face.

I can watch his muscles. I can watch his eyes.

I was constantly looking for clues to that pathological, cruel, you know, amoral immoral cold murderer. And I found the opposite 

He was a ball of emotion. He was crying. He was a mess. 

Here’s a clip from the film:

Ilan Ziv (archival):

I just wanted to start with some very simple questions. Describe to me what it means to live 23 hours incarcerated. What do you do, 23 hours a day? 

Mark Stroman (archival):

Try to keep my sanity. Read. Try to think about the past.

Ilan Ziv

And he was brutally honest. Um, which for me was kind of refreshing. 

Mark Stroman (archival):

It still haunts me, I mean, everything I’ve done– I shut my eyes and I can’t escape it. I have nightmares. 

Ilan Ziv:

He talked with this very Texas slang and very picturesque language, which is sort of Texan too with metaphors. My chances of getting out of here alive is like the chances of a ball of snow on a hot skillet.

And he talked to me about childhood and he talked to me about his life and he talked to me about, so I grew very to know his life very intimately.

And we talked about life and we talked about death and we talked about the fear of death. And we talk about hate. We talk about a lot of things.

They started writing letters to each other. and Ilan kept visiting, and kept asking questions. 

Ilan Ziv (archival): 

 In a way I feel that almost all the rage in you was triggered by Sept. 11. But it was not about Sept. 11.

Mark Stroman (archival):

I’ll never forget it. A lot of hate and anger toward the arab world. Seeing the images of people jumping off the buildings, people trapped on planes, flight 93. I’m very patriotic. And my country was attacked, so I kind of, I took it personally. 

Ilan Ziv (archival): 

So this was Sept. 11. But what made you kill Waqar Hasan 4 days later on sept 15? 

Mark Stroman (archival):

Re-runs after re-runs of the media coverage. Watching it. And it just boiling up and boiling up. And I just snapped. Everybody was saying let’s get em. Let’s get the dirty bastards. Let’s bomb em. Who? We didn’t know, but as Americans, we were wanting justice. 

Ilan Ziv:

I will tell you something which might shock you. But I think that Mark’s reaction to 9/11 is basically a distorted mirror of America. He did what all of the country did. 

He did what America called for.

Preet Bharara:

By the time Ilan met Mark Stroman, the US had been in Afghanistan for three years and Iraq for 1. At the same time, the US immigration system — the system that allowed Rais to come to this country — got even tougher.  In the decade after 9/11, the Justice Department investigated over 800 hate crimes against muslims, arabs, south asians, and other brown people — and those are just the incidents that were reported. 

Rais eventually put his life back together. He got $50,000 from the Texas victim compensation program, which helped cover most of his medical bills. 

He got a new job that he liked, in IT. He leased a Nissan. And he leaned more on his faith.  His life was finally back on track.

In 2009, he went on a pilgrimage to Mecca with his mom. As he circled around the Ka’aba, he started to reflect more deeply on what had happened to him. 

Rais Bhuiyan:

I kept thinking about my shooting incident 

I had two choices: either see myself as a victim remaining, depressed, angry, and feeling sorry for the rest of my life. Or follow my mother’s advice, utilizing my God gifted willpower to drop the grudge, thoughts of revenge. Take control of my life, my happiness, and forgive. To move forward and rebuild my life.

I thought about my shooter sitting on death row, waiting to die… I remember a verse from the Holy Quran, chapter five and verse 32.

Where it says that saving a life is like saving the entire humankind, and taking a life is like taking the entire humankind. 

Preet Bharara:

Rais realized that he and Stroman had something in common:

Rais Bhuiyan:

I know how it feels to be on the brink of death from my personal experience, pleading to God for a second chance.

And instead of hating him, I began to see him as a human, like me, not just a killer. I suffered terribly. But I did not see any value in him suffering as well. I mean, his suffering would not lessen or erase all the pain and suffering he put me through.

Yes, I forgave him. It makes me feel good in my heart that I was able to forgive my attacker. But what was the benefit? What was the outcome of this forgiveness?

Preet Bharara:

Forgiving Stroman helped Rais feel better… but what good did it do for Stroman?

Rais Bhuiyan:

He was still in death row and he was going to be executed pretty soon. And I felt that was not enough. I need to go the extra mile to save his life. 

So I started it in an international campaign to lower his punishment.

Preet Bharara:

Since that day at the gas station, Rais had never talked to Stroman. Stroman had shown Rais no mercy, no compassion, no remorse for what he’d done. Nevertheless Rais did something most of us– myself included– could never imagine doing. He started working, as hard as he could, to save the life of the man who almost killed him. 

It was now less than a year until Stroman was scheduled to die. 

Rais launched a campaign to take Stroman off death row. And he went big: he got Amnesty international and some other nonprofits involved, they hired a team of lawyers, and started collecting signatures for a petition to commute Stroman’s sentence.

Reporter (archival):

Now, the state of Texas says it’s Mark Stroman’s turn to die. But there’s a twist. Rais Bhuiyan is now fighting to save the life of the man who tried to take his. Rais Bhuiyan joins us now from Dallas, welcome to the program. 

Rais Bhuiyan (archival):

Thanks for having me. 

Preet Bharara:

Meanwhile, Stroman got word of Rais’s campaign to get him off death row. 

Mark Stroman (archival):

It blew my mind. It really did, it shocked me. I want to show the world that I’m not a monster, I’m human. 

Preet Bharara:

Stroman reached out to Ilan Ziv, the documentarian. 

Ilan Ziv:

Mark wrote to me and said he wants to write a letter to all the victims. And I said, it’s a fantastic idea, be prepared for the fact that they might not accept it. 

But I think you write a letter, it’s the least you can do.  

Rais Bhuiyan:

I would like to just read one paragraph and where he said that, that my stepfather taught me some lessons that I should have never learned. I have unlearned some of them and I’m still working on some of them. I don’t know who your parents were, but it is obvious, they are wonderful people to lead you to act this way to someone you have every right to hate. I mean, he painted my parents for raising me well, And showing mercy and kindness to him. 

Preet Bharara:

It’s impossible to know whether or how Mark Stroman changed during his time on death row. He had a blog, and if you read the things Stroman wrote while in prison– none of it is straightforward. In one blog post, he’ll express remorse for what he did, and in another, he’ll say he was never racist. In one post, he says, “I don’t need to explain myself or justify my past actions to anyone” 

Rais Bhuiyan:

I cannot tell what he had in his heart, but the way he acted, the way he, he talked about his crime and his redemption and what he was paid sitting in death row. I truly believe that he went through a transformation

Preet Bharara:

Rais doubled down on his commitment to getting Stroman off death row. In January of 2011, the state of Texas set the execution date for July 20th.

Time was running out. Rais reached out to the families of the two other victims, Hasan and Patel, and explained his mission to them. Some of them came to support his campaign. 

Rais Bhuiyan (archival):

Hello everyone my name is Rais Bhuiyan. I’m here at Trafalgar Square to pass a message on behalf of Mark Stroman, who is a death row inmate…

Preet Bharara:

In June 2011, with only one month until the execution, Rais went on a media blitz. He took the campaign to Europe —  where some companies that make lethal injection drugs are headquartered — and he asked them to stop sending those drugs to the US.

As for Stroman, Ilan says he was grateful for Rais’s efforts… but he wasn’t optimistic. 

Ilan Ziv:

And Mark was completely, never believed for one second, anything. He participated because he felt if everybody’s trying to help him, he’s not going to be the one to spoil the party.

Preet Bharara:

It’s just guys, it’s helped us forget about it. So. I mean, I talked to him very honestly about it. He never believed for a second it would happen.

Rais pushed on. 

It was now just two weeks until Stroman’s execution date,›and Rais went back to Texas. 

Nothing had worked so far. So Rais took his fight to the courts. He filed a lawsuit claiming he was denied his right to victim-offender mediation. 

Texas law says that victims of crimes have the right to a dialog with their offender. A lot of states have this kind of law, but in Texas there’s even a “Victim’s Bill of Rights” in the state’s constitution. If Rais won, it would at least delay Stroman’s execution. 

Amy Goodman (archival): 

I’m Amy Goodman as we turn to texas where a hate crime victim is attempting to save the life of a convicted murderer. 

Stroman is pleading for forgiveness. Says he’s a changed man. But what makes this story so extraordinary is that Rais Bhuiyan– 

–Rais Bhuiyan is suing governor Rick Perry in order to stop the execution of death row prisoner mark stroman. He’s scheduled to die on Wednesday.

Tell me, what are your plans, or where do you plan to be on the day of the execution. If it happens. 

Rais Bhuiyan (archival): 

Well first of all I’m very hopeful and I strongly believe that the board of parole and the honorable governor of Texas will listen to victims requests.  

Preet Bharara:

Rais and his team hadn’t made much progress. 

And finally, just like that, Stroman’s execution date arrived. July 20th, 2011. Rais woke up that morning not knowing if Stroman would live through the day. 

Rais still needed to argue his case before a state judge. And that wouldn’t happen until 5pm that day. Stroman was due to be executed at 6. 

Through all of this, Rais still hadn’t spoken with Stroman directly. And no matter what happened at 6pm, he so badly wanted the chance to talk to him. 

But Rais wasn’t on Stroman’s list of calls that day and the prison wouldn’t allow it. So the filmmaker, Ilan Ziv, had an idea – he called Stroman and Rais and put them on speakerphone so they could talk to each other. 

Rais Bhuiyan:

So now he’s on the phone. 

And what else I could tell to a person who is about to be executed in a couple of hours?

So I told him, Mark, know for sure that I forgave you and I never hated you. And that was really important for me to tell him, because he heard this from people, but now it is important that he’s hearing the same thing from me, one of his victims. And he said, thank you. I never expected this from you. I love you, bro.

And when he said I love you, bro, I just couldn’t hold my tears. He’s the same human being 10 years ago shot me in the face for no reason, his heart was filled with anger, fear, hate and intolerance. And then he did not see me as a human being. He thought that this world would be a better place if I did not exist.

And now 10 years later, it’s the same human being. But with the change of heart, he was able to see me as a human being. He was able to call me brother and he said, he loved me. 

And then he said Rais. I never expected this from you. I have to go. They are calling me.

Preet Bharara:

And then what happened to him?

Rais Bhuiyan:

He was taken next to the execution chamber, where he was waiting and me and my legal team, we went to the court.

Preet Bharara:

Rais went to the courtroom, to plead his case before the judge.  

Ray Hill (archival): 

And this is Execution Watch. I am Ray Hill. We only do this show when someone is about to be executed. 

This is going to be a different series of execution watch because it is rapidly breaking into a breaking news story.

Preet Bharara:

This is a show from a local radio station in Huntsville. People around the country–death penalty activists, hate crime orgs, legal groups–they were all watching the case to see what would happen in the courtroom.  

Ray Hill (archival): 

What’s going on with the Bhuiyan. Rais Bhuiyan case? 

To be honest with you, uh, I can’t answer that question. 

Rais Bhuiyan:  

I was like a real time law and order episode.

Ray Hill (archival): 

It looks, it appears that there is some kind of a holdup somewhere, It appears to me that they, the [legal beagles?] haven’t made a decision. 

Rais Bhuiyan:

And if you fail he’s gonna die, and if you win, you’ll get a second chance 

And I was asked to testify why I filed this motion and why it is so important for having this dialogue with my attacker. Why is it important to, to save a human life? 

And when I was testifying, I looked in the eyes of the judge and people in the audience, and I could feel there was a pin drop silence in the court, and I could see the judge’s eyes were red.

Preet Bharara:

He was very moved. 

Ten years before, at Stroman’s murder trial, the prosecution asked Rais to testify… to help make their case and get the death penalty for Stroman. Now, Rais was asking to have a say in Stroman’s fate once again. 

But this time… he wasn’t given the chance. 

Preet Bharara:

Remember, Stroman was on death row for murdering Vasudev Patel… NOT for shooting Rais. The judge denied Rais’s request for mediation. 

Rais Bhuiyan:

And then I asked my lawyer what is next, and he said there is nothing we can do today. 

Preet Bharara:

The execution would go on as planned. 

Ilan was in the room with Stroman when he was executed. Neither of them believed Rais’s delay tactic would work, they thought Strohman would be killed that day. But even though Ilan saw it coming, it didn’t make it any easier.  

Ilan Ziv:

It’s a tough moment. It’s a tough moment, because we tend to discuss all of these things in abstraction. 

The death penalty, it’s not just, somebody push a button, Mark died you know, it’s clinical. No, there are people involved– the warden, the people who feed the last meal, there are millions of people involved in this so-called ritual.

Preet Bharara:

As Stroman sat in the execution chair, he was asked to give his last words. 

He said that hate had to stop… that he was still a proud American, and a proud Texan. He ended by saying: “God bless America. God bless everyone. Let’s do this damn thing.” 

Rais Bhuiyan:

I was very sad. We tried so hard to save a life. Yes. Definitely justice was serving the eyes of the law, but we lost a human being.

Preet Bharara:

Justice was served in the eyes of the law. A jury deliberated. The law was followed. A punishment was imposed. The methodical, grinding machinery of the law did what it was supposed to do. 

But the law has limits. The law is not in the business of forgiveness or redemption. It can’t compel us to love each other or respect each other. It can’t cancel hate or conquer evil or teach grace. The law cannot achieve these things – not by itself. It takes people — brave and strong and extraordinary people to achieve those things.

Rais Bhuiyan:

So I tell people that, you know, instead of rushing towards the judgment //, please take time.

The forgiveness we all have within us, you need to go through a journey. And at the end it has to come from within. 

Preet Bharara:

From CAFE, this is Doing Justice, produced by Transmitter Media. 

This episode was written by Mitchell Johnson and produced by Shoshi Shmuluvitz <SHMOO-luh-vitz> and Dan O’Donnell. 

This podcast is based on my book, Doing Justice: A Prosecutor’s Thoughts on Crime, Punishment and the Rule of Law, which you can find at doing justice book dot com and wherever books are sold. 

We had production help from Jessica Glazer. Our editor is Sara Nics and executive producer is Gretta Cohn. 

The executive producer at Cafe studios is Tamara Sepper. And the chief business officer is Geoff Isenman. 

Meral Agish fact checked this episode. And Hannis Brown composed our original music and was our mix engineer for this series. 

I’m Preet Bharara.