EL CAJON, Calif. – A note found next to the Iraqi-American woman's bludgeoned body read "Go back to your country, you terrorist," sparking outrage from the large Iraqi community in this working-class city east of San Diego and others around the globe.
But investigators say the evidence soon pointed to a domestic dispute and not a hate crime.
Prosecutors are expected to lay out their arguments Thursday at a preliminary hearing in El Cajon for Kassim Alhimidi, who is charged in his wife's death. The judge will decide whether Alhimidi will stand trial.
The March 21, 2012, killing of Shaima Alawadi initially drew international condemnation after her daughter said she found the note. Deputy District Attorney Kurt Mechals said El Cajon police worked tirelessly to find the truth and found the evidence showed the 32-year-old mother of five was killed by her husband.
He declined to comment further, other than to say the family has been cooperating.
Alhimidi has pleaded not guilty to the murder charge. If convicted, he could face 25 years to life in prison.
A sealed search warrant affidavit inadvertently given to a reporter at the U-T San Diego newspaper showed the El Cajon family was struggling with relationship issues.
Detectives found documents in Alawadi's car indicating the mother of five planned to seek a divorce. Alawadi had left Iraq in the early 1990s after a failed Shiite uprising.
The affidavit showed their 17-year-old daughter, Fatima, was distraught over a pending arranged marriage to her cousin in Iraq and was found in a car with another man in November 2011. After her mother picked her up, the teenager said "I love you, Mom," opened the vehicle door and jumped out while the car was traveling about 35 mph, the document said.
"Police were informed by paramedics and hospital staff that Fatima Alhimidi said she was being forced to marry her cousin and did not want to do so, (so) she jumped out of the vehicle," the documents say.
Alhimidi was publicly silent for six days after the body was found, even though his children spoke often with reporters. In his first public remarks — made at a news conference at the family's mosque in Lakeside — he demanded to know what motivated the killer.
"The main question we would like to ask is what are you getting out of this and why did you do it?" Alhimidi said in Arabic as his 15-year-old son translated.
Alhimidi flew to Iraq to bury his wife and voluntarily returned to San Diego County before being charged.
Author Nina Burleigh, who has written extensively about the mix of Islam and Western society, said the case highlights the dangerous clash that can happen when female immigrants, particularly from Islamic countries, rebel against their cultural restrictions and exercise choices made available to them in their adopted homelands.
El Cajon is home to about 40,000 Iraqis.
Alhimidi's arrest last year occurred only days after the sentencing of an Iraqi mother who was charged in Phoenix with beating her daughter because she refused to go along with an arranged marriage. The 20-year-old woman was burned on her face and chest with a hot spoon then tied to a bed. The victim's father and sister were also sentenced to two years of probation for their involvement.