A fascinating story came out of Texas this week (via the Courthouse News Service, BBC and The New York Times, among others) about the victim of a shooting spree who is seeking a stay of execution for his attacker. Among his reasons for doing so is that he wants the chance to sit down at a mediation table with the attacker and talk about the crime that ties them together.
In late September 2001, Mark Stroman shot three people who he believed to be Arabs as revenge for the September 11 terrorist attacks. Two of them died, but one, Rais Bhuiyan, survived after being shot in the eye. Stroman is now on Death Row and is scheduled to be executed tonight. Earlier this year, Stroman requested to meet with Bhuiyan, and Bhuiyan, guided by a religious belief system that emphasizes forgiveness, asked the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to allow them to participate in the Department’s victim-offender mediation program. However, Death Row inmates are effectively excluded from participating in the program – mediation only takes place after the appeals process is concluded, and Death Row cases are usually on appeal until just before execution takes place.
Bhuiyan says his requests were ignored by the Department. Mediation never took place. Now, in addition to petitioning the Board of Pardons and Paroles to commute Stroman’s sentence, Bhuiyan is suing the director of the Department and the governor for denying him the right to mediate with Stroman. As the Courthouse News Service reports,
“Bhuiyan says the defendants ‘have made it impossible for essentially one class of victims to benefit from mediation – those whose firm religious beliefs prompt them to seek mediation and reconciliation in capital cases where the defendants want to execute the prisoner.’
[Bhuiyan] adds that he ‘understands to a certain extent where Mark Stroman obtained the racist beliefs that partially drove him in 2001 – now that he has seen evidence of Mark Stroman’s terrible childhood and background. Plaintiff understands that Mark Stroman has, to a certain extent, been able to rehabilitate himself even while on Death Row. … Plaintiff’s own ability to reach a cathartic point in his own recovery depends very much on his being able to make full efforts to help Mark Stroman to reach his full potential, and to overcome the very negative lessons that he was taught as a child.’”
There has been no indication that Texas will stay Stroman’s execution; this may be where the story between Bhuiyan and Stroman ends. However, no matter what your beliefs about restorative or retributive justice, or if you are for or against the death penalty, there is something remarkable about this victim who is demanding mediation on his path to justice. Criminal justice systems have been grappling with whether, and how, to incorporate restorative justice programs for years. This story speaks to the reasons why people advocate for such programs, and the complexities they can involve.