An Iraqi immigrant accused of killing his 20-year-old daughter because he believed she had become too westernized doesn't understand court proceedings and may need a mental-health evaluation, his lawyer said Wednesday.
The lawyer, Billy Little, said he first met with 49-year-old Faleh Hassan Almaleki on Tuesday, and the immigrant didn't understand the role of his lawyer, the judge or a grand jury.
"He just doesn't have a clue as to what's going on," Little told The Associated Press. "I can't determine if it's language, cultural or a mental-health issue."
A mental-health expert typically evaluates a defendant's competency to stand trial in such cases, Little said. If the lack of comprehension has to do with language or culture, Almaleki may just need to be taught about the American justice system in his native Arabic.
Authorities say Almaleki ran down his daughter and another woman with his Jeep on Oct. 20 as they were walking across a parking lot in the Phoenix suburb of Peoria. Family members told police that Almaleki attacked his daughter because she was not living according to his traditional Iraqi values.
Noor Faleh Almaleki died Nov. 2. The other woman, Amal Khalaf, survived; she is the mother of Noor's boyfriend.
Almaleki was in court Wednesday in a black-and-white jail uniform and said only his name and birthday when prompted by the judge. His next scheduled court date is Feb. 8.
Almaleki had a different attorney from the Maricopa County public defender's office until Tuesday, when Little took over. Little is on the office's capital case team, and although prosecutors haven't decided whether to seek the death penalty against Almaleki, Little said his office believes it's likely, so he needs to begin defending the case now.
Mike Scerbo, spokesman for County Attorney Andrew Thomas, declined to comment on the case, instead referring to a news release his office issued Dec. 21.
"We will fully prosecute this tragic case of alleged homicide and domestic violence," Thomas said at the time.
Several court appearances had to be canceled after Almaleki was put on suicide watch, but Little said that has no longer been an issue.
Almaleki is charged with first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, aggravated assault and leaving the scene of a serious injury accident.
Almaleki and his family moved to the U.S. in the mid-1990s and lived in the Phoenix suburb of Glendale. Friends said Noor simply wanted to be a normal American woman, and that she was never disrespectful to her father, just independent.
Friends said Almaleki forced Noor to quit her job at a fast-food restaurant, and in 2008, he took her to Iraq under the guise of visiting family. Actually, he had picked out a husband for her and told her she couldn't return to Arizona unless she married him.
Noor married the man and returned, and friends said her husband was in the process of trying to move to the U.S. But Noor fell in love with another man, they said, and she was living in his home with his mother when she was killed.