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Iraqi man goes on trial in California for wife's murder

By Marty Graham

SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - The trial of an Iraqi-American man accused of killing his wife in a crime that was first investigated as a hate crime opened on Tuesday with testimony from a paramedic who described finding the woman bloodied and dying in her San Diego area home.

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.

But six months later, police arrested Alawadi's husband, 49-year-old Kassim Alhimidi and court papers show a family in turmoil.

Taking the stand as the first witness in the closely watched trial, El Cajon paramedic Kyle Kleinschmidt said he was sent to the family's home after Alawadi's then-17-year-old daughter Fatima called 911 to say she had discovered her mother unconscious on the kitchen floor.

Kleinschmidt said he found a bleeding Alawadi on the floor of the kitchen in front of the family's computer, tangled up in the cord of the mouse. He testified that the scene was not consistent in his mind with Fatima Alhimidi's belief that her mother had fallen.

"There seemed to be blood splatter across the floor that suggested it wasn't a fall," he said.

DEFENDANT SOBS IN COURT

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.

Earlier on Tuesday, Kassim Alhimidi sobbed in court as prosecutors played an audio recording of his daughter calling 911, and was admonished by San Diego Superior Court Judge William McGrath, local NBC7 TV reported.

"Mr. Alhimidi, please understand that these jurors need to hear all this evidence. They're not going to be able to hear the evidence if you're being louder than the testimony or, in this case, the 911 tape. You need to do your best to stop this," McGrath told him, according to the station.

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.

She told police at the time that 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.

Fatima Alhimidi was expected to testify in the case as early as Wednesday.

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.

(Reporting by Marty Graham; Writing and additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Mohammad Zargham and Lisa Shumaker)

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