A California murder that Islamist groups pushed as a Muslim Trayvon Martin was nothing more than the desperate act of a man angered by his wife's plans to divorce him, a prosecutor argued in opening statements Tuesday.
Kassim Alhimidi, 49, is charged with killing his wife Shaima al-Awadi in March 2012.
Al-Awadi was struck six times in the head with a blunt object – likely a tire iron – in her El Cajon home. Al-Awadi, a hijab-clad Iraqi immigrant, died three days later. A note found near her said "Go back to your country, you terrorist," prompting speculation that she was targeted for a hate crime.
This was about a month after Martin, an unarmed Florida 17-year-old, was shot and killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer who cited Martin's hooded sweatshirt, or "hoodie," among the things that caused him suspicion. Outraged supporters organized "million hoodie" marches in protest.
Al-Awadi's death sparked calls for similar, "million hijab" marches to protest "a world so full of hatred that a woman wearing a head scarf is afraid for her life." Dawud Walid, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations' (CAIR) Detroit office, for example, said "Shaima Al-Awadi's murder, like Trayvon Martin's, was a senseless murder based upon racial animus."
But, prosecutor Kurt Mechals said Tuesday, Alhimidi visited his unconscious wife in the hospital, touching her and asking for forgiveness. He also told a relative "she might claim I did this to her" if she recovers. A tire iron was missing from one of the family cars, and security video shows someone parking a vehicle that looked like Alhimidi's minivan near the house around the time of the attack. Alhimidi claimed he went out for a ride when it took place.
He was arrested only after his daughter, Fatima, called police and said "My Dad did it." Alhimidi reportedly sobbed loudly throughout the opening statements.
Defense attorney Douglas Gilliland emphasized a lack of physical evidence in the case – no murder weapon has been found and Alhimidi had no blood or broken glass on him when police found him. The witness accounts come from relatives who don't like Alhimidi, Gilliland said. He mentioned tension between Fatima and her parents over the teen's Christian boyfriend.
Her dramatic interview with local television reporters helped fuel the hate crime angle. "Why? Why did you do that?" she asked. "She's a housewife. She's innocent. She hasn't hurt anybody."
Fatima Alhimidi is expected to be a state witness.