June 23, 2014 / 10:00 PM / 4 years ago

Iraqi-American who staged wife's murder as hate crime gets life term

SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - An Iraqi-American convicted of bludgeoning his wife to death in a slaying staged to look like an anti-Muslim hate crime was sentenced on Monday to 26 years to life in prison.

A jury in April found Kassim Alhimidi, 50, guilty of first-degree murder in the death of Shaima Alawadi, 32, who was found bloodied and dying by the couple’s eldest daughter in the kitchen of their home in suburban San Diego in March 2012. She died days later.

Prosecutor Kurt Mechals said that Alawadi, the mother of five children, was planning to divorce her husband and go to Texas to live near her sister.

The two oldest children, both teenagers, were called as witnesses during the two-week trial.

At his sentencing, Alhimidi proclaimed his innocence and told the judge through an Arabic translator that he would prefer death to prison. He made a similar declaration in court at the time the guilty verdict was returned.

Although the sentence imposed by the judge was for 26 years to life, Alhimidi would be eligible for parole after 25 years, since he received credit for 500 days of time already served.

Alawadi had been bludgeoned repeatedly, most likely with a tire iron, while she sat at the family computer. On the floor near the dying woman, paramedics discovered a note that said: “This is my country Go back to yours terrorist,” according to court testimony.

Police in the town of El Cajon and the FBI initially investigated the killing as a possible hate crime. But investigators later determined the note had been photocopied weeks earlier and that a shattered glass door to the home was broken from the inside.

The U.S. State Department expressed condolences for the woman’s death, and Iraqi government officials attended her funeral in Iraq.

Alhimidi was sentenced after statements from the couple’s oldest children were delivered in court.

“How could you kill someone who was always there for you? Mom lives with us every day, but you are the one who will be forgotten,” daughter Fatima Alhimidi, now 19, wrote in a letter read by the judge.

The couple’s second child, Mohammed Alhimidi, apologized for yelling profanities in court at his father’s conviction in April and then said: “I basically lost both my parents.”

He added that he forgave his father, though he worried that such forgiveness meant he was betraying his mother. “As much as I want to hate you, I can‘t,” he told his father.

Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Dan Grebler

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