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Iraqi immigrant found guilty of murdering wife in El Cajon

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SAN DIEGO — An Iraqi immigrant was convicted Thursday of murdering his wife in their El Cajon home because she wanted a divorce.

The March 2012 killing gained attention because a note left near the body suggested the attack was an anti-immigrant hate crime.

But prosecutors argued that Kassim Al-Himidi, 49, left the note to mislead investigators about the fatal beating of his wife, Shaima Alawadi, 32.

The verdict set off a shouting match in Arabic and English between family members who supported the verdict and those who felt Al-Himidi was wrongfully convicted.

As the verdict was being read, Al-Himidi shook his head, wagged his finger, placed his head on the defense table and then made gestures as if he were praying.

When a relative shouted a crude denial of his guilt, Al-Himidi jumped up and in Arabic repeatedly shouted, "I attest to God that I am not the killer."

Two sheriff's deputies handcuffed Al-Himidi and rushed him from the courtroom as the shouting from family members continued.

All-Himidi and his wife fled Iraq to escape Saddam Hussein's regime in the mid-1990s. After living in a refugee camp in Saudi Arabia for two years, they resettled in Dearborn, Mich., and then El Cajon. Located east of San Diego, El Cajon has a large Middle Eastern immigrant population.

The jury in the El Cajon branch of San Diego County Superior Court deliberated for parts of two days before finding Al-Himidi guilty of first-degree murder. He faces 26 years to life in prison when sentenced.

Al-Himidi did not testify during the trial. He wept openly at times and followed the proceeding with the help of an Arabic translator.

The note, containing the warning "this is my country. Go back to yours terrorists" was found by the couple's teenage daughter Fatima as she discovered her mother's blood-soaked body. Al-Himidi insisted that the attack occurred as he was taking the couple's four younger children to school.

Alawadi was bludgeoned repeatedly, possibly with a tire iron, according to prosecutors. Rushed to a hospital, she was taken off life support three days later.

Documents found in the family vehicle indicated that Alawadi planned to divorce her husband and move to Texas to be with relatives.

During the trial, prosecutors introduced video from security cameras that contradicted Al-Himidi's version of what time he took his children to school. A security video also suggested that a vehicle like Al-Himidi's was parked around the corner from the family home minutes before the attack.

The investigation took seven months until charges were brought against Al-Himidi. Al-Himidi accompanied his wife's body for burial in Iraq in the holy city of Najaf, where her father is a prominent Shia cleric.

The Iraqi government urged the U.S. to find the killer and bring him to justice.

tony.perry@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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