A witness told a jury Tuesday about the last moments of Balbir Singh Sodhi’s life, opening the trial of a Mesa man who claims God’s voice drove him to kill.
Luis Ladesma, speaking in Spanish with his testimony translated, said he heard tires squeal and then the convenience store owner’s last words on Sept. 15, 2001.
"The only words I heard him say was ‘Don’t kill me,’ " Ladesma said through an interpreter.
Ladesma had been on his hands and knees, showing Sodhi the source of his sprinkler problems at the Chevron station at 80th Street and University Drive in Mesa, when Frank Roque opened fire.
"His aim was as deadly as it was accurate," prosecutor Vince Imbordino told the jury of seven men and nine women.
Five bullets fired from Roque’s black Chevrolet S-10 pickup truck hit their mark.
Imbordino said Sodhi’s killing and two later drive-by shootings at businesses and homes owned by men of Middle Eastern descent were the result of a "clash of cultures" ignited by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
"The murder and attempted murder go much deeper than Sept. 11," Imbordino said.
The prosecutor flashed onto a screen the quotes of witnesses who heard Roque utter slurs about Muslims and Arabs and shooting "towelheads."
Sodhi, a Sikh from India, wore a turban and beard.
The trial, expected to last until Oct. 10, will end with either the jury’s decision that Roque, 44, should be executed or that he was insane at the time of the shooting, which will land him in a mental hospital until he is cured.
The jury can also convict him but decide he doesn’t deserve the death penalty. In that event, Judge Mark Aceto will sentence him to either life in prison with the possibility of parole or no parole.
Roque’s attorney, Dan Patterson, agreed that Sept. 11, 2001, sparked Roque’s rampage, but the genesis for his actions that day was there in the form of undetected mental illness long before the terrorist attacks.
"Frank Roque was an unremarkable man, living an unremarkable life," Patterson said.
Roque has a family history of mental illness, and his earlier odd behavior was considered eccentricity, Patterson said.
He often would eat his dinner alone in a closed room while the rest of his family dined together.
He took jobs that allowed him to be a loner, his last being at Boeing removing rivets from helicopters 10 hours a day.
He refused to believe that his father had died despite seeing the body and he often argued with people who weren’t there, Patterson said.
Roque sat almost perfectly still, staring straight ahead throughout the four-hour proceeding. Patterson said his client has been heavily medicated since his arrest.
Roque was more affected than others by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and he couldn’t escape the constant bombardment of information on loss of life, national security, patriotism and the nation’s religious response, Patterson said.
As a New York native, Roque felt a kinship to those who lost their lives at the World Trade Center.
"He used terms like brothers and sisters," Patterson said.
Roque eventually heard a voice that told him to "kill the devils," Patterson said.
Using photographs, maps, a medical examiner’s diagram and a red laser pointer, Imbordino spent an hour telling the jury about Roque’s movements that day.
He began by buying a 25-ounce beer and then going to a bar, where he bought two more beers of the same size.
Balbir’s shooting and the two drive-by shootings happened within 20 minutes of one another. No more than seven minutes after firing seven bullets through the front window of a Mobil station at Val Vista Drive and Broadway Road, Roque was at another bar drinking beer, Imbordino said.