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Daughter to testify in high-profile California murder trial of Iraqi man

By Marty Graham

SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - The trial of an Iraqi-American man accused of murdering his wife, a killing first investigated as a hate crime, resumed on Tuesday with his 19-year-old daughter expected to take the stand to testify about finding her mother bludgeoned and dying.

The high-profile trial of Kassim Alhimidi opened on Monday with the 49-year-old defendant wailing in court as prosecutors played a recording of his daughter's call for emergency help after she discovered her mother bloodied on the kitchen floor of their San Diego-area home.

San Diego Superior Court Judge William McGrath admonished Alhimidi for the disruption and ordered that any further such outbursts be translated into English.

Shaima Alawadi, a 32-year-old stay-at-home mother of five, was bludgeoned at her home in suburban El Cajon on March 21, 2012, and died of her injuries several days later.

Police initially investigated her murder as a possible hate crime because of a note found at the scene. The U.S. State Department expressed condolences for her death and Iraqi government officials attended her funeral in Iraq.

As court resumed on Tuesday, El Cajon police detective Christopher Baldwin testified that in the days following the attack on Alawadi, investigators contacted the FBI in the belief that she could have been the victim of a hate crime.

But Baldwin said police also took fingerprint and DNA evidence from Alhimidi and the boyfriend of his then-17-year-old daughter, Fatima, as part of their investigation.

He said a male relative of Alawadi also contacted police from Texas to tell them he suspected either the father or the daughter's boyfriend.

Daughter Fatima Alhimidi told police at the time she heard her mother squeal, followed by the sound of breaking glass, which she took to be her mother dropping a plate. Ten minutes later, she said, she discovered her mother on the floor and called 911.

Prosecutors say they believe Kassim Alhimidi beat his wife to death with a tire iron, possibly taken from a family car, because she was seeking a divorce. Defense lawyers have argued that there is no forensic evidence linking him to the crime.

According to a search warrant affidavit filed by police last April, a relative of Alawadi told detectives she had been planning on divorcing her husband and moving to Texas. Divorce papers were found in her car.

Further complicating the troubled emerging portrait of the family were indications that Fatima Alhimidi had felt pressure to marry her cousin against her will, according to court papers.

Alawadi arrived in the United States in 1993. She was buried in the holy Shi'ite city of Najaf, 100 miles south of Iraq's capital, Baghdad.

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 and additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Lisa Shumaker)

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