Taking the stand for the second day in a row, a San Diego teenager was cross-examined Friday about her parents’ relationship, the events leading up to her mother’s fatal beating and the moments she found her mother’s bloodied body in the family’s home.
Fatima Al-Himidi, 19, testified at the trial of her father, Kassim Al-Himidi, 49, an El Cajon man accused of killing his wife, Shaima Alawadi, 32, in March 2012 after she asked him for a divorce that he did not want.
On Mar. 21, 2012, Fatima found her mother’s brutally beaten body lying in a pool of blood in the family’s dining room at their rented home on Skyview Street in El Cajon. Alawadi had suffered life-threatening head trauma and died a few days later.
The case reverberated across the nation because at first, it was thought to be a hate crime. The family is from Iraq and a disturbing, threatening note was found at the crime scene, which read: “This is my country, go back to yours, terrorist.”
El Cajon police later determined the killing was an isolated incident and not a hate crime, but rather one of domestic violence.
Alawadi’s husband was arrested and charged with her murder.
On Friday – after a week of dramatic court proceedings that have included the playback of a 911 call, uncontrollable waling from the defendant and testimony from the couple’s daughter – Fatima continued her turn on the stand, this time being questioned by the defense.
When asked about her father, Fatima agreed with the defense that her father is a good man who would never harm a woman. Despite tension and arguments at home, Fatima said she never once saw Al-Himidi hit or threaten her mother, herself or any of her four younger siblings.
Fatima said that a few months before her mother’s murder, she began noticing serious arguments between her parents.
Then, her parents stopped talking.
“I saw silence between them,” she recounted, adding that her mother told her that her father wasn’t nice anymore starting around December 2011.
Fatima said her father did some things around the house, such as driving the kids to school every day. He also did some chores and helped cook sometimes, but the relationship between her parents was still strained.
The defense also brought up a previous statement Fatima allegedly made, saying she would marry a Muslim man if her were like her father, a nice guy who would never hurt anybody. Previously, the teenager has testified that she argued with her parents because they wanted an arranged marriage for her, and she wasn’t interested.
During cross-examination, Fatima was also asked about the note found at the crime scene as well as another threatening note found at the family’s home about a month before her mother’s killing.
That note, according to investigators, was never reported by the family. The defense says it also said: “This is my country, go back to yours, terrorist.”
Fatima said one of her younger siblings found that note and the hateful message “angered” Fatima, who told her mother to call 911. However, her mother didn’t want to bring attention to the family, who had just moved into the neighborhood, and decided to put the note away in a drawer.
Though Fatima testified Friday that she had never been threatened this way in the El Cajon neighborhood before, the defense pressed her, quoting earlier statements she allegedly made, saying ever since they moved into that house they’d gotten racist comments.
Fatima said she didn’t remember saying that, only remembered that neighbors would never say hello or reply to the family when they greeted them.
The defense also revealed a transcript of a conversation Fatima allegedly had with a friend in which she said she saw someone other than her dad in the kitchen right after her mother was gravely injured, and that that man was the one who hit her mom.
According to transcript, Fatima also told the friend that this man had hurt her mother before, and that this time he left a note by her head as she lay injured on the kitchen floor of the family's home.
Fatima testified that the translation from the conversation from Arabic to English was wrong.
She also acknowledged telling paramedics that her mother may have argued with someone on the phone right before she was killed.
Also on the stand Friday was an expert in crime scene analysis reconstruction who specializes in forensic science and blood pattern investigation.
The expert – a former Oklahoma City Police law enforcement with 27 years of experience – said he had reviewed hundreds of pages of documents in connection with this case, autopsy notes and more than 1,000 images of the crime scene.
The expert testified that blood pattern analysis suggests Alawadi was sitting at a computer when she was first struck. Her name had been typed into the log-in section of Yahoo! and there were at least three characters typed into the password field.
He said broken glass from a sliding door was found for up to 12 feet out on the patio and three feet inside the home. He believes that the direction of force indicates that glass was broken from the inside outwards.
When cross-examined by the defense, the expert confirmed her was paid between $2,000 and $3,000 by the prosecution to review materials in this case and write a report, and another $3,000 to testify in the trial.
By 12:30 p.m., the trial had called recess until Monday morning.
On Thursday, Fatima’s attorney, Ron Rockwell, spoke exclusively to NBC 7 about his client, saying she had struggled emotionally in the two years since her mother’s death. The attorney said Fatima’s four younger siblings now look to her for support and guidance.
Rockwell said it has also been difficult for Fatima to see her father accused of the murder.
“I’m sure emotionally, it’s been a roller coaster and so I think her feelings about the fact that her father has been accused change regularly,” said Rockwell.
When asked if Fatima believes her father committed the crime, Rockwell refused to answer.
“It’s a very, very sad time,” he said. “Her father is on trial for the murder of her mother. For that reason, she’s devastated.”