EL CAJON, Calif. – The daughter of an Iraqi-American man accused of killing his wife has told a court that her parents had longstanding problems that had gotten worse in early last year.
The testimony came Thursday at the start of a pretrial hearing that is continuing Friday, with a judge expected to decide whether Kassim Alhimidi should stand trial in the fatal beating of his wife at their California home.
The killing of 32-year-old Shaima Alawadi was initially believed to be a hate crime because a note found in the home that day read: "Go back to your country, you terrorist," drawing international condemnation.
But investigators say the evidence indicated a domestic dispute, and later charged Alhimidi with murder. He has pleaded not guilty.
The couple's daughter, identified only as Fatima, struggled to not cry on the stand Thursday as she testified that her father could not accept that his wife wanted to get divorced and move to Texas.
Wearing a purple headscarf, Fatima told the court her parents long-term problems had deteriorated early in 2012. The 18-year-old said her mother had told Alhimidi she wanted a divorce and to move to Texas, where her parents and siblings live.
Fatima said she had gone with her mother to the courthouse, where she obtained divorce papers.
"She showed him the papers. He laughed. He thought she wasn't serious," she testified. "She was furious because he was not taking her serious."
As she spoke, her father sobbed loudly. She turned her head to avoid looking at him.
Fatima testified her parents had loud arguments but she never saw her father strike her mother, and said he treated people with respect.
Fatima was home the morning of the March 21, 2012, while her siblings were at school.
The family had planned to go to Texas that weekend to visit her mother's relatives, Fatima said.
She heard a squeal and glass shattering. When she came downstairs, she saw her mother's feet near the kitchen entry and blood on the floor. She called 911.
"I was so scared, I couldn't look at her," Fatima said.
Fatima said her father told her about a month after the killing that he had thrown out his wife's shoes and another unidentified object of hers because he feared police would "suspect it was him." Alhimidi told police he threw out a hammer from his van because he was worried it was illegal. No hammer has been found, investigators said.
She also told the court her younger sister had found a note a week before the killing outside their home's front door with the same wording as the menacing note found on the day of her mother's attack. She said the handwriting was the same but the ink was a different color.
Firefighter and paramedic Kayle Kleinschmidt who responded to the call told the court he found the folded piece of paper with the message that made the killing appear to be a hate crime and told police.
The FBI was brought in. Lab tests determined the note was a photocopy and according to testimony from El Cajon police investigator Christopher Baldwin there were inconsistencies with Alhimidi's statements.
Alhimidi, speaking through an interpreter, told Baldwin he had no marriage problems beyond the normal issues with couples and did not mention his wife's plans to divorce initially, the investigator said.
Under questioning from the defense, Baldwin acknowledged that Alhimidi later told a detective that he was amenable to her going to Texas to take a break.
Alhimidi told police he loved his wife and cooperated with the investigation, offering a DNA sample, his cell phone and consent to search his vehicle, Baldwin acknowledged. No blood was found in his van or on his body, nor were there injuries indicating he had been in a fight. Alhimidi's attorney could not be reached for comment after the hearing.
His wife had multiple skull fractures from a blunt force and died two days after the attack, medical examiner Dr. Jonathan Lucas testified.
Alhimidi was publicly silent for six days after his wife was found. 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.