Faleh Almaleki sat between his attorneys in court on Monday afternoon, listening through an Arabic interpreter to Deputy County Attorney Laura Reckart rip him up.
"What could be more dishonorable than a father ripping away the life of his own flesh and blood?" Reckart told the 16-member jury (four members will be chosen at random at the conclusion of the case).
The veteran prosecutor had everyone within earshot riveted with her opening salvo in a first-degree murder trial that has gathered increasing international attention since Almaleki's arrest in late October 2009.
The Glendale man is charged with murdering his 20-year-old daughter, Noor, and badly injuring a onetime family friend in an incident that horrified onlookers. His "weapon of choice," according to Reckart, was "a 4,000-pound car."
The prosecutor's choice of the word "dishonorable" was intentional: The case has been dubbed an "honor killing" from early on, referring to an ancient practice, mostly in Arabic countries, of targeting women for allegedly committing immoral acts that supposedly disgrace the family.
We wrote the first in-depth story about this tragic case last April 1.
Called "Honor Thy Father,"
it described an Iraqi-born father of seven whose anger at his disobedient "Westernized" daughter (Reckart dubbed it "such a rage within") and an older female friend of Noor's spiraled into an intentional hit-and-run at a Peoria parking lot.
Almaleki ran the pair down in his Jeep Cherokee shortly after they exited a government building, and then fled from the area as passersby rushed to their aid. Noor died 13 days later without regaining consciousness.
The friend, Amal Alebadi, also was badly injured, but survived.
Almaleki was arrested several days later in London, England, and then spoke to Peoria police detectives. At first, he told them he had run over the two women in a freakish accident after bumping into them at the government office.
"I have no problem with my daughter," he told the detectives. "I just lost control [of the car].
Detective Chris Boughey asked Almaleki if he had been trying to scare the women.
"Might be something like that," the onetime long-haul truck driver replied, "but I don't try to kill them...I've been angry, and I lost control. I lost the brain."
|Murder victim Noor Almaleki|
Prosecutor Reckart noted that Noor had fallen in love with Amal Alebadi's son, Marwan, and was living at the Alebadi residence, to the great disapproval of Faleh Almaleki, whose relationship with Noor during the young woman's final years was, at best, checkered.
"This will not be a whodunit or a howdunit," Reckart told the jurors, noting that the defense isn't planning to contest that Almaleki killed his daughter. "The primary question is whether it was premeditated or not."
Elizabeth Mullins, who is one of Faleh Almaleki's two court-appointed attorneys, began her opening statement dramatically, saying that "when a father holds his child for the first time, he's never the same. It's a universal truth that we all know."
Soon, the assistant public defender stepped around behind her client, placing both hands on his shoulders, and describing how much he had loved his first-born, Noor.
Noor, Mullins said, grew up to be "a typical American teenager," talking (at great expense) on her cell phone, listening to music, getting a tattoo, occasionally ditching school with friends."
The young woman's schism with her parents grew, and by Mullins' account, on the fateful day, Faleh Almaleki just happened to inside the same government office as Noor and Amal.
"He was angry," Mullins said of her client.
He returned to his Jeep, where he apparently sat with his motor running in the parking lot for a period of time. Then, Noor and Amal stepped out and decided to walk across the lot to a restaurant.
Upon seeing the two, according to Mullins, Almaleki "got angry again...he's trying to cool down, but he's still mad. He decides in that split second to spit at [Amal]."
He drove toward the women, Mullins said, at a speed of up to 20 mph, at which point "this stupid decision to spit had turned into a huge catastrophe waiting to happen."
By the defense attorney's account, Almaleki didn't even realize he had struck his daughter until he looked out of his window and back: "`Noor, my baby, she's lying there in the median!' He panicked."
Mullins said that Almaleki called unspecified "family members" from the scene, saying, "`What do I do? I've hit Noor, what do I do?' The family says, `Get out of there!'"
Faleh Almaleki did just that, fleeing first to Nogales, Sonora, and eventually to England, as his daughter's life slipped away at a hospital.
"Fathers are supposed to love their children, protect their children, die for their children," Mullins told the jury, [but] in that moment, [Faleh's] recklessness caused him to injure Amal...and to kill Noor."
Recklessness or premeditation? That's what this jury will have to answer at the end of the day, which court personnel estimate will be about a month from now.
Whatever the panel's decision, 50-year-old Faleh Hassan Almaleki will be behind bars for a long time to come, most likely for the rest of his life.
Trial testimony is set to begin tomorrow morning in the courtroom of Superior Court Judge Roland Steinle.