PHOENIX – A jury convicted an Iraqi immigrant of second-degree murder Tuesday for running over and killing his daughter in a case prosecutors called an "honor killing."
Faleh Hassan Almaleki, 50, also was convicted of aggravated assault for injuries suffered by the mother of his daughter's boyfriend during the October 2009 incident in a suburban Phoenix parking lot, and two counts of leaving the scene of an accident.
Prosecutors told jurors during the trial that he mowed down 20-year-old Noor Almaleki with his Jeep Cherokee because she had brought the family dishonor by becoming too Westernized. He wanted Noor Almaleki to act like a traditional Iraq woman, but she refused an arranged marriage, went to college and had a boyfriend.
Defense lawyers called Noor's death and the severe injuries to Amal Khalaf an accident. They say he only wanted to spit on the older woman, who Almaleki thought helped his daughter stay away from her family. Khalaf had taken Noor in several times after she left home between 2007 and 2009, and that was a cause of increasing friction between the families.
A detective testified that Almaleki acknowledged under questioning by police that he intentionally ran her over. But the transcript of the taped interview showed he repeatedly called the incident an accident. Khalaf also testified during the four-week trial, saying he ignored her screams to stop before he struck her and then ran down Noor.
The defense called no witnesses. They argued for a lesser charge, saying Almaleki made a split-second decision that he should be held accountable for but that he did not intend to kill anyone.
His lawyer said during opening statements that the truck driver from southern Iraq was angry at the older woman, and he was trying to drive by and spit on her when she jumped in front of his Jeep.
He swerved, but could not avoid accidentally hitting her and running over his daughter, his lawyer said.
Almaleki, who wore headphones as he listened to an interpreter, showed little emotion when the jury read the verdict.
The court was scheduled to convene Wednesday to hear testimony from Khalaf on the aggravated assault conviction. She remained composed Tuesday as the verdict was read and declined reporters' request for comment, as did prosecutors.
Defense attorneys said in a written statement that they were "pleased the jury took the time necessary to consider all of the evidence in this important case," but declined further comment.
The incident happened on Oct. 20, 2009, outside a state Department of Economic Security office in the west Phoenix suburb of Peoria. Noor had gone with Khalaf to interpret and the women were waiting to be helped when Faleh Almaleki came into the office.
He left after a short time, and Khalaf said she was worried he might do something violent toward Noor, so she drove around the parking lot to make sure he had left. She testified that she was so nervous, she locked her keys in her van and had to call her son to bring another set.
They left the office to go to a nearby restaurant when the Jeep bore down on the women.
Almaleki fled to Mexico and then London, where he was detained and then returned to the U.S.