The memory of Mahatma Gandhi was invoked Thursday on a busy Tempe street corner in hopes of saving a killer.
Nemi Jain, a communications professor at Arizona State University and a native of India, spoke to a small crowd at Mill Avenue and University Drive, saying that in Gandhi’s tradition of nonviolence, Frank Roque should live.
As he spoke, a jury in Mesa deliberated Roque’s fate. It was the same jury that convicted him Tuesday of firstdegree murder and several other charges in a shooting spree that killed Balbir Singh Sodhi in September 2001.
The crimes sprang from Roque’s rage over the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
Sodhi, a native of India, wore a turban as a member of the Sikh religion. He was killed while working at his convenience store in east Mesa.
Jaswant Singh Sandhu, a friend of the Sodhi family, accompanied Jain at the news conference, which was timed to commemorate the 134th anniversary of Gandhi’s birth.
"Mahatma Gandhi got India’s independence without killing one human being, without using any force," Jain said. "He said, ‘If I get independence through violence and through force, that independence is not worth fighting for.’ "
Gandhi died, Jain said, at the hands of a Hindu fanatic who believed he was under divine orders to kill.
"That," Jain said, "is exactly what happened on Sept. 15, 2001" — the day Roque undertook his campaign of revenge. "He heard voices that Muslims are going to destroy America. Muslims and Arabs are going to destroy capitalism. And therefore he must do something to eliminate all the Muslims and Arabs who are living in America," Jain said.
Roque’s mental state at the time of the slaying became the central issue at trial.
Jurors rejected his insanity plea after deliberating three hours.
Jain urged consideration for Roque’s troubled past, suggesting he receive life in prison. But as he polled the mostly student crowd, the only person to agree was Sandhu.
"In the Sikh religion it is forget and forgive," Sandhu said.
Sandhu said — echoing members of the Sodhi family after the verdict this week — Sikhs would not object or try to interfere with the jury’s decision, even if they determine Roque should die.