MESA, Ariz. – A man accused of fatally shooting an Indian immigrant four days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks was acting out of a rage fueled by prejudice, a prosecutor said in opening statements of the man's trial. The man's attorney argued mental illness was to blame.
On the day of the terrorist attacks, Frank Silva Roque (search) was overheard saying he would shoot people whom he described with an ethnic slur, prosecutor Vince Imbordino said as the murder trial opened Tuesday.
"This is a clash of two cultures and, in part, a result of Sept. 11," Imbordino said. "But the murder of Mr. Sodhi ran much deeper than that."
Roque is accused of killing gas station owner Balbir Singh Sodhi (search), a 49-year-old who wore a beard and turban as part of his Sikh faith.
Sodhi was neither Muslim nor from the Middle East, as the terrorist hijackers had been. Yet authorities say he was targeted by Roque on Sept. 15, 2001, because of his appearance.
Police reports quoted Roque as saying "I'm a patriot" and that he was "standing up for his brothers and sisters" in New York after his arrest on the day of the shooting.
Roque is also charged in drive-by shootings that day at the home of a family from Afghanistan and at a convenience store owned by a Lebanese man. No one was injured in the latter shootings.
Roque's attorneys are presenting a "guilty except insane" defense and say he has suffered from mental illness since he was a teen.
His brother is expected to testify that Roque would "argue with people who weren't there," said defense attorney Daniel Patterson. Patterson said Roque's mental illnesses caused him to hear voices in his head and contended his client didn't have a history of racial or ethnic hatred before Sept. 11.
The attacks served as a catalyst for his psychological problems and led Roque to hate people from the Middle East, Patterson said.
A court-appointed psychiatrist found Roque was sane at the time of the killing, according to reports released last week.
If the jury finds Roque was insane, he wouldn't be subject to the death penalty that prosecutors are seeking. But he would be confined to a state hospital until doctors determine he is no longer a threat.
Sodhi was outside his gas station when authorities say Roque drove up and shot him.
Landscaper Luis Ledesma testified Tuesday that he had been on his hands and knees, showing Sodhi the source of a sprinkler problem when Sodhi was killed. He said he heard tires squeal and then Sodhi's voice.
"The only words I heard him say was 'Don't kill me'," Ledesma said.
News of Sodhi's death touched off protests in his homeland and prompted India's prime minister to call President Bush. About 3,000 people attended a memorial service for Sodhi at the Phoenix Civic Plaza (search) the week after the shootings.
The trial is expected to last about a month.