SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - The daughter of an Iraqi-American man charged with killing his wife in what was first investigated as a hate crime, on Thursday tearfully described hearing her mother’s murder from her upstairs bedroom and finding her dying on the kitchen floor.
Fatima Alhimidi, taking the witness stand on the third day of her father’s murder trial, said that she was sleeping on the morning of March 21, 2012, when she heard noises downstairs.
“I heard my mom moan and a while after that I heard glass breaking,” a sobbing Alhimidi, 19, told jurors, adding that she initially concluded that her mother, 32-year-old Shaima Alawadi, had probably broken a plate while cooking.
When she came downstairs, Alhimidi, who was 17 at the time, found her mother lying face-down on the kitchen floor in front of the family computer. She said she cradled her mother in her arms, believing at first that she had fainted.
“She was bleeding like I’ve never seen,” Alhimidi, dressed in black and wearing a head scarf, told the court. “When I moved her I actually recognized how much blood there was because she was on top of the blood.”
The stay-at-home mother of five died of her injuries several days later.
Prosecutors accuse the father, 49-year-old Kassim Alhimidi, of bludgeoning her to death, possibly with a tire iron taken from one of the family’s cars. Defense lawyers have argued there is no forensic evidence linking him to the crime.
El Cajon police and the FBI initially investigated the killing as a possible hate crime because of a threatening note found at the scene. The U.S. State Department expressed condolences for the woman’s death and Iraqi government officials attended her funeral in that country.
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.
Alhimidi also said that after the family buried her mother in Iraq, her younger brother, Mohammed, confronted her father about his actions on the day of the murder.
“Mohammed said, ‘Is it true you threw away your shoes and the piece of metal after Fatima called you?’ And he said ‘Yes, I was scared of the police.’ He said it was a hammer and shoes.”
Three tire irons were found in Alhimidi’s car but tested negative for blood, according to testimony by El Cajon Police Department Forensic Evidence Technician Tara Fruchtenicht.
During her often emotional testimony on Thursday, Fatima Alhimidi said that conflict between her parents began during a trip to Iraq in mid-2011, when her father began pressuring her to marry a cousin who lived there.
“My mom told him, ‘Don’t pressure the girl. If the girl doesn’t want to marry him, she doesn’t have to,” she said.
Alhimidi told the jury she had agreed while in Iraq to marry her cousin, hoping to end her parents’ arguments, but changed her mind once they returned to the United States.
Back home, Alhimidi said, tensions rose within the family after she began dating a local Chaldean Christian boy against her parents’ wishes, once leaping from a moving car while arguing with her mother over him.
By February 2012, a month before the murder, Alawadi, 32, was seeking a divorce from her husband, who refused to grant it, Alhimidi said.
“My mom couldn’t stand him. She didn’t want to speak with him anymore,” she said. “She told me she found a piece of ladies underwear in my dad’s car. She told me every time she wouldn’t sleep with him, he wouldn’t give her money for her and us.”
Writing and additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Gunna Dickson and Lisa Shumaker