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Father on trial, daughter denies wanting Iraqi-American mother dead

Kassim Alhimidi (R) speaks next to his son Mohammed Alhimidi (L) during a candlelight vigil to remember his wife Shaima Alawadi outside thei
Kassim Alhimidi (R) speaks next to his son Mohammed Alhimidi (L) during a candlelight vigil to remember his wife Shaima Alawadi outside thei

By Marty Graham

SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - The daughter of an Iraqi-American man accused of killing his wife in California in what was first investigated as a hate crime denied under cross-examination by a defense lawyer on Monday that she ever said she wanted her mother dead.

Fatima Alhimidi acknowledged telling an uncle's then-girlfriend that she hated her mother because the two had fought over her romance with a local Chaldean Christian boy, a relationship that would be taboo in many Muslim families.

But asked by defense attorney Richard Berkon if she had ever said she wanted her mother dead, the 19-year-old Alhimidi said: "I don't remember that. I don't think so."

The questions appeared to be part of a defense strategy to suggest that the father, 49-year-old Kassim Alhimidi, may not have been the only person with a possible motive for killing the stay-at-home mother of five in her San Diego-area home.

When it was his turn to question Alhimidi, San Diego County Deputy District Attorney Kurt Mechals asked her directly if she had anything to do with the crime.

"Did you kill your mother? Did you tell your boyfriend Ron to do it?" Mechals asked. Alhimidi responded: "No."

It was Fatima Alhimidi, then 17, who found her mother, Shaima Alawadi, bloodied on the kitchen floor of the family home in the San Diego suburb of El Cajon on March 21, 2012. Alawadi, 32, died several days later.

Authorities initially probed the killing as a possible hate crime because of a threatening note found at the scene. The U.S. State Department expressed condolences for the woman's death and Iraqi government officials attended her funeral in that country.

But in the days following the attack, a relative of Alawadi called from Texas to say he suspected her husband or the daughter's boyfriend, an investigator has testified. Divorce papers were found in Alawadi's car.

Prosecutors ultimately accused the father of bludgeoning his wife to death, possibly with a tire iron taken from one of the family's cars. Defense lawyers counter that there is no forensic evidence linking him to the crime.

The daughter's testimony has painted a picture of a family in turmoil in the months before the killing, as arguments erupted over whether she would wed a cousin in Iraq in an arranged marriage and over her relationship with her boyfriend.

She has testified that conflict between her parents began during a trip to Iraq in mid-2011, when her father began pressuring her to marry the cousin and her mother disagreed.

Furthermore, she said, in the weeks before the murder her parents had often argued, and her mother was seeking a divorce, which her father did not want to grant.

During her third day on the witness stand on Monday, Fatima Alhimidi said she had not initially suspected her father, believing the killing was related to the note. But months later, she began to suspect him in part after he refused to discuss with her an interview he had with police.

"There was more to it. I thought he did it, there were a couple questions he wouldn't answer," she said.

El Cajon is in the heart of east San Diego County, which is home to the second-largest Iraqi community in the United States, behind Detroit. More than half of El Cajon's 100,000 residents are of Middle Eastern descent.

(Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Mohammad Zargham)

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