Daughter of Iraqi-American man cross-examined at California murder trial

SAN DIEGO Fri Apr 4, 2014 7:41pm EDT

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SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - An Iraqi-American man charged with murdering his wife in their California home in what was first investigated as a hate crime heard testimony from his daughter on Friday that showed deep conflict within the family.

Kassim Alhimidi, 49, who prosecutors accuse of beating his wife to death, possibly with a tire iron, glared at his daughter during cross-examination on the fourth day of the trial and then began weeping. He has pleaded not guilty and defense attorneys say there is no evidence linking him to the crime.

Shaima Alawadi, a 32-year-old mother of five, died of her injuries several days after her daughter found her bloodied body on the kitchen floor of their home in the San Diego suburb of El Cajon, California, in March 2012. Divorce papers were found in her car.

The testimony of his 19-year-old daughter Fatima Alhimidi painted a picture of a family in turmoil in the months before the killing, as arguments erupted over whether she would wed a cousin in Iraq in an arranged marriage and over her relationship with a boyfriend.

Fatima Alhimidi, wearing a Muslim headscarf, told the court that she broke up with a Chaldean Christian boy months before the killing, after an argument with her mother that ended with the teen leaping from a moving car.

But Alhimidi conceded that she was meeting secretly with him at the family's home in the weeks before her mother was brutally beaten.

"I'd sneak him in sometimes," Alhimidi said under questioning by defense attorney Richard Berkon. "There was a few times I'd sneak him in at night. I'd open the door for him."

Authorities initially investigated the killing as a possible hate crime because of a threatening note found at the scene, and the crime sent shock waves through the large Iraqi-American community in the San Diego area. The U.S. State Department expressed condolences for the woman's death and Iraqi government officials attended her funeral in that country.

But in the days following the attack, a relative of Shaima Alawadi called from Texas to say that he suspected her husband or the daughter's boyfriend, an investigator has testified.

During Friday's cross examination, the defense displayed for jurors text messages between Fatima Alhimidi, then 17, and the boyfriend about a week before her mother was attacked in which she wrote, "I am the one who is ready to die for you" and "Our love became greater no matter how much they tried to ruin it."

El Cajon is in the heart of east San Diego County, which is home to the second-largest Iraqi community in the United States, behind Detroit. More than half of El Cajon's 100,000 residents are of Middle Eastern descent.

(Writing and additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Lisa Shumaker)

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