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Trial starts for Iraqi immigrant charged in daughter's death

By David Schwartz

PHOENIX (Reuters) - Lawyers for an Iraqi immigrant accused of running over his daughter because she had become "too Westernized" said during opening statements in the case on Monday that the young woman's death was an accident.

But a Maricopa County prosecutor said Faleh Hassan Almaleki, 50, ran down his daughter with his Jeep Laredo on purpose, and it was a premeditated act carried out because he was angry with her over her behavior.

Almaleki is charged with crashing his Jeep Laredo into his 20-year-old daughter, Noor Almaleki, and her boyfriend's mother, as the two walked across a parking lot in the Phoenix suburb of Peoria.

Noor Almakeli died from her injuries two weeks later. Her boyfriend's mother survived.

Almaleki is charged with first-degree murder, attempted murder, aggravated assault and two counts of hit and run. He faces life in prison if convicted by the 12-member jury.

Police say Almaleki told detectives and witnesses after the October 2009 incident that he was angry at his daughter because she was "too Westernized," defying Iraqi and Muslim values.

The daughter had shunned an arranged marriage, and was living with her boyfriend and his mother, police said.

County prosecutor Laura Reckart, in her opening remarks, did not touch on those themes, but said Almaleki had "no legal justification ... for his murderous, violent acts."

Reckart said the defendant, enraged over his daughter's behavior, waited hidden from view in the parking lot for her and her boyfriend's mother and then ran them down.

"The defendant revved and raced that car right into them ... and plowed the two of them down," Reckart said.

Defense attorney Elizabeth Mullins painted Almaleki as a caring father who loved his daughter even though she caused him grief, crashing the family van and moving in and out of the house repeatedly.

Mullins said when Almaleki saw his daughter with her boyfriend's mother, he made a "split second" decision to drive by and spit at her, but instead veered out of control and struck the pair.

She said he left the scene because his family told him to, and later told police that if his daughter died he would kill himself.

Following his daughter's death, Almaleki fled to Mexico and later to London, where he was taken into custody upon his arrival. He is being held on $5 million bail.

(Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Jerry Norton)

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