EL CAJON, Calif. - An Iraqi man whose wife was fatally beaten in their East County home last spring in what initially appeared to be a hate crime pleaded not guilty to a murder charge Tuesday afternoon.
Kassim Irzoqi Alhimidi, 48, was ordered held without bail and is due back in court on Nov. 28 for a preliminary hearing to determine if there's enough evidence to order him to stand trial.
Deputy District Attorney Kurt Mechals told Judge Herbert Exarhos that Alhimidi had traveled to Iraq recently and was considered a flight risk.
The defendant, who faces 26 years to life in prison if convicted, was arrested last Thursday by El Cajon police. His wife, 32-year-old Shaima Alawadi, was found mortally injured in their Skyview Street residence on March 21. A threatening note was left "very close" to where she lay, Lt. Mark Coit said.
Police have declined to reveal the contents of the message, but the couple's 17-year-old daughter, Fatima, previously told reporters it read, in part, "go back to your country, you terrorist." Alawadi, a homemaker and mother of five, died of head injuries in a hospital three days later.
The grieving teen said her mother had been bludgeoned with a tire iron.
From the outset of their investigation into the slaying, police said they considered ethnic animosity only one of the possible motives.
Outside court, Mechals said El Cajon police spent "I don't know how many hours working on this case -- a huge amount -- doing a fantastic job trying to figure out whether this was a hate crime, or whether it was a domestic-violence murder."
"Obviously, the investigation has led to the conclusion that this was a domestic-violence murder and not a hate crime," the prosecutor said. "The family, like everyone else, wants to make sure that justice is achieved for their mother, their sister, and so forth. They trust the El Cajon Police Department. They know that they've put a lot of effort into this investigation. I think they probably hope that we're wrong, but at the same time, they're
going to let the system sort it out."
Alawadi, who left her native country with her husband in 1991 to avoid running afoul of dictator Saddam Hussein, apparently had been planning to get a divorce and move with her children to Texas, where members of her family live, her brother told U-T San Diego.
At a March 27 memorial attended by religious dignitaries, dozens of mourners and a representative of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Alawadi's seemingly distraught spouse called on anyone with information about the deadly assault to come forward.
"If anyone knows anything about the murder, please don't be shy, and pass information to authorities," Alhimidi said in Arabic, with his youngest son, Mohammed, 15, translating his statements into English. "The main question we would like to ask is: Why did you do it, and what are you getting out of this?"