2012-04-11 / News

Court papers shed new light on Iraqi beating death

By Gillian Flaccus
and Julie Watson
Associated Press

EL CAJON—The family of a slain Iraqi-American woman flew to Iraq with her body just days after police sought a court order to search their house, cars and electronic devices for clues in the case that generated international outrage amid speculation that her beating death might have been a hate crime.

The husband and two of Shaima Alawadi's five children arrived in Iraq last week, four days after detectives submitted an 11-page search warrant affidavit asking for permission to conduct a broader search of the crime scene.

The court papers say detectives discovered a suspicious text message sent from a cell phone belonging to Alawadi's 17-year-old daughter. The message read: “The detective will find out tell them cnt talk.”

In addition, the records say Alawadi wanted to get a divorce and move to Texas, and the daughter was distraught about a pending arranged marriage with a cousin.

The killing of the 32-year-old Alawadi drew international attention after her daughter, Fatima Alhimidi, told reporters she found a note by her mother's unconscious body that read: “Go back to your country, you terrorist.” Police have not named any suspects.

Lt. Mark Coit, an El Cajon police spokesman, said on April 6 the department would not comment on the case. The affidavit was supposed to be sealed and was mistakenly released to the media by San Diego County Superior Court, the court acknowledged in a statement.

While the court papers provide insight into the different leads police are pursuing, searches of the home, cars and phone records don't necessarily mean a family member is a suspect, said Paul Pfingst, a former San Diego County district attorney who is now a defense lawyer.

Court records say detectives also sought evidence of any additional notes or harassing text messages or emails.

“Does the evidence point to a particular person is really the question,” Pfingst said. “If there is enough evidence to believe that a person committed the crime then the police likely would have arrested the person.”

Police are trying to determine who received the text message sent from Alhimidi's cell phone while the teen was being interviewed by detectives, according to the affidavit.

The family also told police another hate note was left at their home weeks before the attack, but they did not keep it or file a report with authorities.

Mohammed Alhimidi, Alawadi's 15-year-old son, said the first note was taped to their front door when he got home from school on March 13, but the family decided not to go to the police, deciding it was just a prank.

Alawadi's brother said he has not drawn any conclusions about the identity of the killer based on the newly released details.

“I want people to know what really happened,” Hass Alawadi told U-T San Diego. “We hope for the best, hope for it to come out. I hope they found who did it.”

Police found a torn, handwritten note at the crime scene, court papers indicate, but forensic analysis found it was a copy.

Police have not revealed what it said but asked the judge for permission to search for the original, as well as other notes with “hate-crime related content” and any paper stock that matches the paper on which the note was written.

The court papers detailed several relationship issues in the family.

In November, Fatima Alhimidi jumped from her mother's moving car and possibly broke her arm after she was discovered by police in a car with a 21-year-old man, the records show.

Alhimidi said, “ ‘I love you, Mom,’ opened the vehicle door and jumped out while the vehicle was doing approximately 35 mph,” the documents said. “Police were informed by paramedics and hospital staff that Fatima Alhimidi said she was being forced to marry her cousin and did not want to do so, (so) she jumped out of the vehicle.”

The teenager told police that on the night of the killing, she heard glass break and her mother squeal, but she thought it was a dropped plate. She said she found her mother unconscious 10 minutes later.

Alawadi had suffered at least six blows to the head, possibly caused by a tire iron. She died three days later.

A neighbor reported seeing a man carrying a brown box running from the area of Alawadi's house around the time of the attack.

“We, at the end of the day, are looking to get the coldblooded murder whoever he or she may be and whatever the motive might be,” Hanif Mohebi, executive director of the San Diego chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said Friday. “She was a young community member that we all loved and part of our heart is gone.”

The family took Alawadi's body from the U.S. to the Shiite holy city of Najaf, south of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, on March 31 on a plane sent by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al- Maliki. Two of her five children and her husband are still there, Mohebi said.

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