EL CAJON, Calif. (AP) — A judge on Friday ordered an Iraqi immigrant to stand trial in California in the killing of his wife, whose fatal beating prompted international condemnation because it had appeared to be a hate crime.
San Diego County Superior Court Judge Lantz Lewis announced his decision after Kassim Alhimidi's lawyer urged the court to let his client go, saying there is no forensic evidence linking him to the death of his wife, 32-year-old Shaima Alawadi.
Attorney Richard Berkon Jr. noted no blood or glass was found on Alhimidi's body or clothing, or in his car. And he said his client does not speak English, raising doubts he was capable of staging the killing as a hate crime by planting the note found in the next room that read: "Go back to your country, you terrorist."
Alhimidi has pleaded not guilty to murder. He also has cooperated with police throughout the investigation, even voluntarily returning from Iraq after burying his wife in their homeland.
"It doesn't make sense, your honor," Berkon told Lewis. "The real killer is still out there."
The judge said the most persuasive evidence for him was street-camera footage that indicates Alhimidi might have driven a short distance from home that fateful March 21, 2012, morning and parked his car — contradicting his story to investigators that he had gone for a drive to relax at that time.
"It appears to be a lie," Lewis said in explaining his ruling.
The footage shows a person getting out of a parked red car resembling Alhimidi's vehicle around the corner from the home and then walking back to it an hour later.
Lewis also cited a deadly weapon charge against Alhimidi as reason to keep him in custody.
The mother of five, who immigrated to the United States in 1994 to flee her country's violence, was found by her eldest daughter in a pool of blood on the kitchen floor with her body entangled in a computer cord and desk chair. She had multiple skull fractures from a blunt force and died two days after the attack. A sliding glass door was shattered.
Berkon questioned why Alhimidi would choose to kill his wife when their daughter was upstairs, sleeping.
Alhimidi's daughter, identified only as Fatima, struggled to keep her composure on the stand Thursday as she testified that her father could not accept that his wife wanted to get divorced and move to Texas, where her family members lived.
Wearing a purple headscarf, the 18-year-old 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."
Berkon said his client had told a detective he was open to having his wife go to Texas to take a break if she needed one.
As Fatima testified, her father sobbed loudly. She turned her head to avoid looking at him.
The teen said her parents had loud arguments but she never saw her father strike anyone.
She 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.
Fatima 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 the day of her mother's attack. She said the handwriting was the same but the ink was a different color.
Police said lab tests determined the note they found the day of the killing was a photocopy. And the FBI ruled the death in El Cajon, home to about 40,000 Iraqi immigrants, was not a hate crime.
The trial was set for Aug. 8.
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