As the jury trial of accused daughter-killer Faleh Almaleki moves toward its conclusion, one thing is certain. The 12-person panel will find the 50-year-old Glendale resident guilty of one degree of homicide or another.
The real question inside Superior Court Judge Roland Steinle's courtroom: Can Almaleki's defense team somehow convince jurors that a lesser charge of, say, manslaughter is appropriate under the circumstances?
Almaleki has pleaded innocent to charges of first-degree murder, attempted murder, aggravated assault, and leaving the scene of an accident. Prosecutors have alleged that this was no accident, but the intentional, premeditated running-down with his Jeep Cherokee of his 20-year-old daughter, Noor, and another woman who once was a family friend.
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Those prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty in this closely watched case, though Almaleki is looking at spending the rest of his life behind bars if the jury convicts him of almost any of the murder and attempted murder counts.
The facts of this case are chilling ("Honor Thy Father," March 30, 2010):
Peoria police and county prosecutors have alleged that Faleh Almaleki murdered Noor after becoming outraged that she had "disgraced" him by leaving the family fold and moving in with a boyfriend, Marwan Alebadi, and Alebadi's mother.
The mother, Amal Khalaf, survived the October 2009 hit-and-run and testified dramatically last week during the ongoing trial.
Almaleki's defense lawyers are countering that he hadn't meant to harm either woman but accidentally barreled over them while intending to spit at Khalaf from his Jeep.
Noor died without regaining consciousness several days after being crushed by her father's 4,000-pound vehicle. Amal Khalaf suffered broken bones and other injuries.
Faleh Almaleki sped away from the scene, a state Department of Economic Security parking lot in Peoria. At first, he fled to Nogales, Mexico, and later flew from Mexico City to England. Authorities nabbed him at London's Heathrow Airport within days and extradited him to the states.
Authorities recovered Almaleki's Jeep Cherokee in a mall parking lot on the Mexico side of Nogales within days of the incident.
"What could be more dishonorable than a father ripping away the life of his own flesh and blood?" veteran prosecutor Laura Reckart told the jury in her opening statement at the start of the trial.
Her use of the word "dishonorable" was intentional, as this case has been dubbed a so-called "honor killing," referring to the ancient practice, employed mostly in Arabic countries, of targeting females for committing supposedly immoral acts that are perceived to bring disgrace on the family.
(Even innocent young girls who are sexually assaulted or suffer other depravities may become murder victims at the hands of male siblings or other family members, supposedly to assuage the "shame" brought upon the clan.)
Prosecutors played for the jury tapes of Faleh Almaleki's post-arrest interview with Peoria police detectives, during which he claimed to simply have lost control of his Jeep.
"I have no problem with my daughter," he first told Detective Chris Boughey, whose investigation of this case was solid.
Boughey asked Almaleki whether he had been trying to frighten the women.
"Might be something like that," said the Iraqi-born father of seven, who speaks in broken English, "but I don't try to kill them . . . I've been angry, and I lost control. I lost the brain."
Later in the interview, Almaleki asked the detective how he would have handled such a "disobedient" daughter as Noor. The detective said that he would not have crushed his child with an automobile.
Detective Boughey then asked Almaleki again whether he had meant to harm Noor and Khalaf.
Yes, Almaleki finally confessed, using a metaphor to try to explain his actions:
"If your house has got a fire [in] just part of the house, do we . . . let the house burn or [do] we try to stop the fire?"
Almaleki said his daughter Noor, his first-born child, was the "small fire" he had been forced to extinguish.
The jurors have not been privy to transcripts of Almaleki's jailhouse phone calls with his wife, Seham, who is expected to testify when the defense presents its case.
Some of those calls covered honor killings and how Faleh Almaleki wanted to defend what he had done to Noor.
"Listen," he told his wife, "have [friends] sit across from the [U.S.] consulate [in Iraq] and hold signs saying, 'The Iraqi honor is precious.' Signs saying that I'm not a criminal, [that] I didn't break into someone's house, [that] I didn't steal. You know what I mean? And for an Iraqi, honor is the most valuable thing."
He continued, "No one hates his daughter, but honor is precious, and nothing is better than honor, and we are a tribal society that can't change. I didn't kill someone off the street. I tried to give her a chance, but no result."
Mrs. Almaleki chastised her husband for having rushed into the violent act, to which Faleh responded, "Don't blame me! Can you watch Amal's demeanor and do nothing? You can't. Amal brought it upon her."
He then advised his wife to "trust in God and pray to God —and don't rush and retain a mediocre lawyer."
The subject of legal representation came up in another recorded jailhouse conversation, when Seham mentioned an attorney said to have performed miracles in an unspecified case.
"Is he Arab?" Faleh asked.
"No, not Arab," she replied. "He is a Jew."
Faleh thought about that for a moment.
"A Jew?" he said. "Check with Arabs as well. [But] if there is a loophole in this subject — you know, clans, tribalism, something like that — the Jews know of it. See if there is a loophole or something."
It's uncertain of the ethnic origins of Almaleki's two court-appointed attorneys. One of those lawyers, deputy public defender Elizabeth Mullins, told the jurors during her opening statement, "Fathers are supposed to love their children, protect their children, die for their children, "[but] in that moment, [Faleh's] recklessness caused him to injure Amal . . . and to kill Noor."
Amal Khalaf's testimony through an Arabic interpreter last week was riveting.
She described how she and Noor had bumped into Faleh Almaleki inside the DES building on the morning of October 20, 2009, and how, maybe an hour or so later, he drove right at them as they crossed the parking lot on the way to a nearby restaurant for a cold drink.
"He was driving so fast," Khalaf said — police have estimated that he was going about 20 miles per hour and never hit the brakes, even after he struck the pair.
"What did you do when you saw him?"
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Khalaf lifted up her hands in a defensive gesture and recalled screaming, "No, no, no, no!"
Deputy county attorney Reckart asked Khalaf if she saw any expression on Almaleki's face: "Yes, he was really angry."
Almaleki may have been enraged, but he had the presence of mind, according to his attorney's opening statement, to call family members by cell phone within seconds of striking the defenseless women.
Those unspecified family members reportedly advised Almaleki to run for it rather than to come to the aid of his dying daughter and her badly injured friend — and that's exactly what he did.