Courtroom outbursts after man found guilty in wife's murder
Video Report By Dominic Garcia, Reporter - bio | email
Video Report By Abbie Alford, Reporter - bio | email
SAN DIEGO (CNS/CBS 8) - A jury Thursday found an East County man guilty in the murder of his wife, prompting an outburst by several family members in the courtroom.
Kassim Alhimidi, 49, was found guilty of first-degree murder in the death of 32-year-old Shaima Alawadi. He will be sentenced on May 15. He faces 26 years to life in prison.
As the verdict was read, Alhimidi was seen repeatedly shaking his head, waving his finger and at one point appeared to be praying. Shortly afterwards, several people in the courtroom began shouting, including Alhimidi's son, who did not agree with the verdict. He was taken out of the courtroom in handcuffs.
The victim's mother told reporters outside court Thursday the majority of the family did not agree with Alhimidi's son, but to say they were pleased with the verdict would be an understatement.
"This was the least that the jury came up with. He deserved worse," the woman said. "In Iraq normally if he killed her, he's supposed to be killed the same way he killed her. So that's the kind of sentence I wanted."
Family members say Alhimidi used a tire iron to kill Alawadi. 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.
Prosecutor Kurt Mechals said the defendant, 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.
Alhimidi 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 said.
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.
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, who told jurors it was "unreasonable to think she (Fatima) had anything to do with it."
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 the victim's husband 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?" he asked.
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.
A spokesperson with the San Diego County Sheriff's Department says usually there is one bailiff to a courtroom in a case but in a high-profile case like this they staff more for outbursts like the one in the Alhimidi case.
The 17-year-old son was cited for Resisting a Peace Officer. CBS News 8 is waiting to hear back from the judge to see if the son will be allowed in the courtroom when his father is sentenced on May 15.