By Marty Graham
SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - The daughter of an Iraqi-American man charged with killing his wife two years ago in what was first probed as a hate crime testified on Thursday that her parents had fought over plans for her to marry a cousin in the months leading up to the killing.
Fatima Alhimidi, taking the witness stand on the third day of her father's murder trial, said that arguments between her parents began during a trip to Iraq in mid-2011 and escalated until her mother sought a divorce early the following year.
"My mom couldn't stand him. She didn't want to speak with him anymore," said Alhimidi, 19, who now cares for several younger siblings.
"She told me she found a piece of ladies underwear in my dad's car," Alhimidi, dressed in black and wearing a head scarf, told the court. "She told me every time she wouldn't sleep with him, he wouldn't give her money for her and us."
Alhimidi, who was 17 at the time of her mother's death, told police she found her mother, Shaima Alawadi, bloodied on the floor of their home in the El Cajon suburb of San Diego on the morning of March 21, 2012. The stay-at-home mother of five died several days later from her injuries.
Prosecutors accuse the father, 49-year-old Kassim Alhimidi, of bludgeoning her to death, possibly with a tire iron taken from one of the family's cars. Defense lawyers have argued there is no forensic evidence linking him to the crime.
El Cajon police and the FBI initially investigated 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.
During her testimony on Thursday, Fatima Alhimidi said the conflict between her parents started during the summer of 2011 over her father's insistence that she marry a cousin who lived in Iraq.
"My mom told him, 'Don't pressure the girl. If the girl doesn't want to marry him, she doesn't have to," Alhimidi told the court.
Alhimidi said she had agreed while in Iraq to marry her cousin, hoping to quell her parents' arguments, but that she backed out once they returned to the United States.
Back home, Alhimidi said, tensions rose within the family after she began dating a local Chaldean Christian boy against her parents' wishes, once leaping from a moving car while arguing with her mother over him.
By February 2012, a month before the murder, Alawadi, 32, was seeking a divorce from her husband, who refused to grant it, Alhimidi said.
In testimony in the case on Tuesday, El Cajon police detective Christopher Baldwin told jurors that during the initial days of the investigation a relative of Alawadi contacted police from Texas to tell them he suspected either the father or Fatima Alhimidi's boyfriend.
Three tire irons were found in Alhimidi's car but all tested negative for blood, according to testimony by El Cajon Police Department Forensic Evidence Technician Tara Fruchtenicht.
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 Gunna Dickson and Lisa Shumaker)