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Calif. judge hears case of slain Iraqi-American

Posted: July 25, 2013 2:46 p.m.
Updated: July 25, 2013 2:46 p.m.
 

EL CAJON, Calif. (AP) — The eldest daughter of an Iraqi-American man accused of fatally bludgeoning her mother at their California home testified Thursday that her father could not accept that his wife wanted to get divorced and move to Texas.

The daughter, identified only as Fatima, struggled to not cry on the stand at a preliminary hearing for her father, Kassim Alhimidi, who is charged with murder. He has pleaded not guilty.

The killing of 32-year-old Shaima Alawadi was initially believed to be a hate crime because a note found in the home that day read: "Go back to your country, you terrorist," drawing international condemnation.

But investigators say the evidence indicated a domestic dispute.

Fatima told the court her parents had longstanding problems that had gotten worse in early 2012. She said her mother had told Alhimidi she wanted a divorce and to move to Texas, where her parents and siblings live.

Fatima said she had gone with her mother to the courthouse, where she obtained divorce papers.

"My dad asked us to talk to mom to tell her to forget about divorce," she testified.

Fatima testified her parents had loud arguments but she never saw her father strike her mother or any of her four siblings.

Fatima was home the morning of the March 21, 2012, attack and said she heard a squeal and glass shattering. When she came downstairs, she saw her mother's feet near the kitchen entry and blood on the floor. She called 911.

As she spoke, her father sobbed loudly. She turned her head and tried not to look at him.

Fatima said her father told her a month after the killing that he had thrown out his wife's shoes and another unidentified object of hers because he feared police would suspect he committed the crime.

Firefighter and paramedic Kayle Kleinschmidt told the court the call on the morning of March 21 came in as someone who had fallen. He said he and the other firefighters after getting to the home, noticed blood splatters, which they found odd for a fall. They also noticed a back window was shattered and a sliding door was open.

Kleinschmidt said he found a folded piece of paper on the floor in a back family room area. He opened it and read the message that made it appear to be a hate crime. He told police.

The FBI was brought in, but El Cajon police investigator Christopher Baldwin said there were inconsistencies with Alhimidi's statements. He told Baldwin he had no marriage problems beyond the normal issues with couples and never mentioned his wife's plans to divorce, he said.

Alawadi had left Iraq in the early 1990s after a failed Shiite uprising.

Alhimidi was publicly silent for six days after the body was found, even though his children spoke often with reporters. In his first public remarks — made at a news conference at the family's mosque in Lakeside — he demanded to know what motivated the killer.

"The main question we would like to ask is what are you getting out of this and why did you do it?" Alhimidi said in Arabic as his 15-year-old son translated.

Alhimidi flew to Iraq to bury his wife and voluntarily returned to San Diego County before being charged.

Author Nina Burleigh, who has written extensively about the mix of Islam and Western society, said the case highlights the dangerous clash that can happen when female immigrants, particularly from Islamic countries, rebel against their cultural restrictions and exercise choices made available to them in their adopted homelands.

El Cajon is home to about 40,000 Iraqis.

Alhimidi's arrest last year occurred only days after the sentencing of an Iraqi mother who was charged in Phoenix with beating her daughter because she refused to go along with an arranged marriage. The 20-year-old woman was burned on her face and chest with a hot spoon then tied to a bed. The victim's father and sister were also sentenced to two years of probation for their involvement.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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