"Hate crime" murder case goes to the jury - San Diego, California News Station - KFMB Channel 8 - cbs8.com

"Hate crime" murder case goes to the jury

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EL CAJON (CNS) - An Iraqi immigrant, upset that his wife wanted a divorce, killed her by hitting her at least six times in the head with a blunt object as she sat at a computer in their El Cajon home, a prosecutor said Tuesday, but the defendant's attorney said his client loved his spouse and had no motive to kill her.

Kassim Alhimidi, 49, is charged with murder in the March 2012 death of 32-year-old Shaima Alawadi, a mother of five.

"Shaima Alawadi was taken by surprise by someone she knew," Deputy District Attorney Kurt Mechals said in his closing argument.

The defendant said he was out for a drive when his wife was killed the morning of March 21, 2012, but surveillance video taken from a nearby school showed his van and a dark-clothed person coming and going in the area of the family home on Skyview Drive around the time the victim was attacked, Mechals told the jury.

Shaima Alawadi had told relatives she "couldn't stand" the defendant and had taken out divorce papers, the prosecutor said.

"The relationship was in the tank. It was bad," Mechals told the jury.

The couple's then-17-year-old daughter, Fatima, told police she was upstairs when she heard a "squeal," then later what sounded like a broken plate downstairs around 11 a.m. the day her mother was attacked. A pane from a sliding glass door had been broken from the inside, Mechals said.

Fatima -- who had stayed home from school -- thought her mother had fallen, but paramedics first on the scene said blood and other evidence was inconsistent with a fall.

A photocopied note found about eight to 10 feet from the victim read, "This is my country. Go back to yours, terrorist," leading investigators to initially believe Alawadi's killing may have been a hate crime, Mechals said.

Fatima had been at odds with her Muslim parents for dating a Chaldean, but she had no motive to kill her mother, according to Mechals.

"It is unreasonable to think she (Fatima) had anything to do with it," the prosecutor told the jury.

After his wife was taken to the hospital, Alhimidi asked relatives "what do you think will happen if she wakes up and says I hit her?" Mechals said.

Defense attorney Richard Berkon Jr. told the jury that Alhimidi did not kill his wife and loved her "with every fiber of his being."

Berkon said his client had no motive to kill his spouse and in fact wanted to meet with her family to talk about the possible divorce.

The couple's children said they never saw their father act violently toward their mother, Berkon said.

Alhimidi and his wife had separated once before, in 2004-2005, but got back together, the attorney said.

After the murder, the Alhimidi family traveled to Iraq for the burial.

When word leaked out that authorities were looking at Kassim Alhimidi as a possible suspect, Iraqi officials told him he could stay in their country for safe haven, but he insisted on coming back to the United States to answer questions, Berkon said.

"If you murdered your wife, why come home?" Berkon asked.

The attorney said the murder happened around the switch to Daylight Saving Time and could explain why the defendant's timeline of events was off.

When his wife was taken off life support three days after she was attacked, Alhimidi was devastated and asked her for forgiveness, which is the custom in the Muslim religion, according to Berkon.

Police questioned the defendant for more than seven months before getting an unsolicited call in November 2012 from Fatima saying "My dad did it." Alhimidi was arrested the next day.

He faces 26 years to life in prison if convicted.

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