Prosecutor Kurt Mechals pointing at Kassim Alhimidi
According to testimony of a computer forensics expert, Shaima Alawadi was logging on to Yahoo Messenger at 10:41 a.m. on March 21, 2012, when she was attacked.
The 32-year-old mother of five probably knew the person who struck her head over and over, prosecutor Kurt Mechals said in court on April 15, because as a traditional Muslim, she would have been wearing a hijab if a man who wasn't in her immediate family was visiting.
But Shaima was wearing a short-sleeved dress and, according to the computer expert's testimony, she may have been attempting to communicate with the young Iraqi man chosen for and rejected by her Westernized 17-year-old daughter, Fatima.
Shaima and that young man, Muslim Alhimidi — the nephew of Shaima’s 49-year-old husband Kassim — had been corresponding via Yahoo for a while, even after Fatima had first accepted and then returned a promise ring to marry him. Shaima saw the young man like a younger brother and liked him, Fatima testified.
Both Muslim and Shaima were suffering in their romances. Muslim wanted to know why Fatima would no longer take his calls from Iraq, according to testimony. Muslim was also allegedly counseling Shaima to reconcile with her husband Kassim, who was sleeping on the living-room floor in the El Cajon house the family had rented several months earlier.
Shaima had found a piece of women's underwear in her husband's Nissan Quest minivan and told her daughter about it, according to Fatima's testimony.
"My mom couldn't stand [Kassim] and my dad couldn't stand the fact she couldn't stand him," said Fatima in court, asserting that her mother had told her that in confidence. "Every time she wouldn't sleep with [Kassim], he wouldn't give her money for her and us."
Somehow, Muslim knew much of this and he had urged Shaima to reconcile, according to messages between Muslim and Shaima recovered and read by prosecutors.
Her replies were stark: "I don't love him and I can't stand him. I can't take it any more," she wrote in one message. "If Kassim becomes a prophet I would not go back to how we were before."
Indeed, much of the family — their children, brothers and sisters, and a nephew — were embroiled in the drama of Kassim and Shaima's disintegrating marriage, according to testimony.
Fatima rode with Shaima to the El Cajon courthouse where she picked up a packet of divorce papers; the application to the courts to have the filing fees waived was filled out but not dated when the police found them in Shaima's car.
Fatima and her younger brother Mohammed had been asked by Kassim several times to talk to their mother and convince her to reconcile with him. Kassim had reached out to Shaima's brother and sister in Texas to try to involve them as well, according to testimony.
But none of those efforts had borne fruit. Instead, the household was rocked by arguments with Shaima yelling and crying while Kassim spoke quietly and withheld the traditional Muslim divorce his wife wanted, which required him to say, "I divorce you" three times, freeing her for a future in which she could remarry.
Shaima and Kassim married in a refugee camp in Saudi Arabia in 1991, according to testimony. She was 11 or 12; he was 28 or 29. They remained there for about six months, then moved to East County, where one of the largest populations of Iraqi immigrants lives.
After Fatima was born in 1994, the family lived briefly in Michigan, then returned to East County. They had four more children. At the time of Shaima's death, the family was on welfare, according to testimony. Kassim had had a kidney transplant and earned a little money selling dates. Shaima had started sewing and the supplies cluttered up the master bedroom she no longer shared.
"She wanted to make her own money so she would sew things for ladies from the mosque who would give her money and tell her what they wanted," Fatima testified.
But the drama between her parents, and her mother's increasing independence was just one issue in the household.
Fatima had grown up immersed in both her parents' and Western culture. Handy with a cell phone and a mascara brush, the 17-year-old had fallen in love with a Chaldean Christian youth — a relationship neither family would approve of.
In November 2011, police responded to a complaint from a neighbor: they found Fatima and the youth in his car. Fatima testified they were joking and laughing and being loud, while the police testified they were having sex. Because of her age, the police called Shaima to come and pick her daughter up.
While Fatima testified that her mom only met the youth much later and then only on the phone, the police officer who talked to Shaima that day said Shaima told him they were having trouble with the youth and were thinking about getting a restraining order against him.
On the drive home, Fatima testified, her mother was crying and screaming. She was angry.
"I jumped out of the car in front of the Days Inn," Fatima testified, estimating the speed at 30 mph. But it wasn't a suicide attempt, she said.
"When I was jumping out, I put my arm over my head so I wouldn't die," she testified. She suffered a head injury but wasn't clear if it was a concussion or a skull fracture, agreeing to both when the lawyers suggested them.
Shaima ran to her, lying by the curb.
"When she saw she almost lost me, she was sorry she overreacted. I said I was sorry I hurt her," Fatima testified, saying the experience brought them closer together. No one told Kassim about it, she testified.
At first, Fatima said her relationship with the youth ended by mutual agreement, that it was doomed, though they would always love each other. Fatima ran away from home a number of times — how many times is unclear, with her friend's testimony estimating it much higher than Fatima's.
But later testimony and texts show they sent messages professing love up to a week before Shaima was savagely beaten; texts also indicate Fatima continued to sneak the youth into the house to watch movies late at night when her parents were asleep.
Fatima was in her upstairs bedroom the morning of March 21, dozing and texting, home from school with a sore throat and hoarseness her friends teased her about. She testified that she heard her mother squeal or scream, and then, within minutes, heard the shattering of glass. She thought her mom was cooking and had burned herself or dropped a plate. About 15 minutes later, Fatima got up, dressed, and went downstairs, where she found her mother on the floor.
Then she made one of the most heart-rending 911 calls this reporter has ever heard. Shaima's moans can be heard, sounding like an unconscious response to Fatima's panicked Arabic cries: “Uma, Uma, can you hear me?”
When they arrived, paramedics immediately recognized they were in the midst of a crime scene. They testified that they sent Fatima outside while they tried to save Shaima's life.
After they got Shaima ready to transport, a paramedic found a note on the floor a few feet from where Shaima had landed. The note read, "This is my country. Go back to yours Terrorist." He put it back down and pointed it out to the police, according to testimony. Fatima didn't see the note but was told about it by police later that day.
Kassim, meanwhile, was reportedly driving around near 54th Street and El Cajon Boulevard; Fatima reportedly called him to tell him of the attack on Shaima.
A jury is now deciding if Kassim murdered Shaima. His attorneys have taken the case pro bono. Kassim has been in county jail since his arrest on November 8, 2012, the day after Fatima called detectives and said, "My dad did it.”
Meanwhile, at 19, Fatima has inherited her mother's job: raising her two sisters in an East County apartment. Her two brothers went to live with their maternal grandparents in Texas.
A verdict is expected at 1:30 this afternoon.