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Jury begins deliberating in murder trial of Iraqi-American man

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) - Jurors began deliberating on Wednesday in the trial of an Iraqi-American man charged with murdering his wife in a case first investigated as a hate crime, following closing arguments in which prosecutors urged the panel to find him guilty.

A defense attorney countered during his summation that there was no evidence tying 49-year-old Kassim Alhimidi to the beating death of his wife, Shaima Alawadi, in their home in the San Diego suburb of El Cajon.

The seven-man, five-woman San Diego Superior Court jury began deliberating on Wednesday morning after hearing final instructions from the judge.

Alawadi was found bloodied and dying on the kitchen floor by her daughter, Fatima Alhimidi, who testified during the two-week trial that the family was in turmoil for months before the attack.

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.

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.

During his closing statement in the case, San Diego Deputy District Attorney Kurt Mechals urged jurors to find Alhimidi guilty, asking them to disregard suggestions that an outside attacker could have been responsible.

"She was taken by surprise by someone she knew - she was not wearing her hijab," Mechals said. "(Kassim Alhimidi) thought he'd committed the perfect crime. He thought he was going to get away with it."

But defense lawyer Richard Berkon, during his closing statement, pointed out that there was little physical evidence tying Alhimidi to the crime.

The weapon used to bash Alawadi's head at least six times while she sat at the family computer was never found and no blood, fingerprint or DNA evidence was found on clothing worn by family members or in Alhimidi's minivan, which he says he was driving at the time Alawadi was murdered.

Berkon also pointed to testimony that Fatima Alhimidi had given conflicting statements to police and had lied about ending her relationship with a Chaldean Christian boy, who had sneaked into the Alhimidi house late at night a week before the murder.

"She is the only person in the house when her mother was brutally attacked and she can't give a straight story about what she heard and what she was doing," Berkon said.

(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Eric Walsh)

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