SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - An Iraqi-American man was found guilty by a San Diego jury on Thursday of bludgeoning his wife to death in a killing that was first investigated as a hate crime because of a threatening note found at the scene.
Kassim Alhimidi, 49, was convicted of first-degree murder by the seven-man, five-woman San Diego Superior Court jury after a two-week trial and single day of deliberations. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Upon hearing the verdict, Alhimidi gestured with his hands in front of his face, apparently in prayer, and yelled out in Arabic. According to a court translator, Alhimidi said: “I attest to God I am not the killer, God knows I am not the killer!”,
His 18-year-old son, Mohammed, repeatedly shouted from the courtroom gallery: “That’s fucking bullshit!” and was handcuffed by deputies after a brief scuffle.
The slain woman’s mother also began shouting “You killed my daughter!” in Arabic, according to the translator.
Alhimidi’s wife, 32-year-old Shaima Alawadi, was found by her daughter bloodied and dying in the kitchen of the family’s home in suburban El Cajon on March 21, 2012. She died days later of her injuries.
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.
During the trial the defendant’s 19-year-old daughter, Fatima Alhimidi, testified that the family had been in turmoil in the months before her mother’s death as arguments erupted over whether she should wed a cousin in Iraq.
Fatima Alhimidi said her parents also fought over her relationship with a Chaldean Christian boy she had met in the San Diego area.
In the days following the attack, a relative of Shaima Alawadi called from Texas to say that he suspected her husband or Fatima Alhimidi’s boyfriend in the attack, an investigator testified at trial.
During closing statements in the closely watched case prosecutors urged jurors to dismiss suggestions that Alawadi was killed by an outside attacker and convict Alhimidi. But defense lawyers argued that there was no physical evidence linking their client to the crime.
The weapon used to bash Alawadi’s head at least six times while she sat at the family computer was never found and no blood, fingerprint or DNA evidence was found on clothing worn by family members or in Alhimidi’s minivan, which he says he was driving at the time Alawadi was murdered.
Reporting by Marty Graham; Writing and additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Scott Malone and Tom Brown