Work of slain Iraqi artist is unveiled at California Capitol

Three and a half months after Hassan Alawsi was shot to death in a Home Depot parking lot off Florin Road, his dream of sharing his art with the world came true at the state Capitol on Wednesday.

Nine of the Iraqi refugee’s works in watercolor, acrylic and pencil were displayed in the office of Assemblyman Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, on what would have been Alawsi’s 47th birthday. They included “Ravages of War,” depicting a wounded Iraqi woman holding her baby, and the more peaceful “Marshes of Iraq,” along with “Miwok Park” in Elk Grove and “State Capitol.”

On March 16, Alawsi was allegedly gunned down in the Home Depot parking lot by Jeffrey Michael Caylor, a one-time gang member whose criminal history includes attempted murder, attempted aggravated robbery and unlawful possession of firearms, according to court records in Kansas and Idaho. Caylor served nearly 10 years behind bars, and at his parole hearing said he’d made over $80,000 per week dealing drugs.

Alawsi, who had never met Caylor, had gone shopping with his sister Sajidah Alawsi for painting supplies and herbicides to bring to their relatives in Paris, where Alawsi had lined up a show. His sister, who was wearing an Arab-style dress and a hijab, told The Sacramento Bee she was afraid her clothing had provoked the attack. She and Alawsi’s younger brother Hussein brought his body back to Iraq and then resettled in Paris with their oldest brother.

“They came here to escape war and didn’t have a chance to enjoy peace,” said family friend Nahid Kabbani, who attended Wednesday’s art show.

Alawsi studied art history at the University of Baghdad, then fled to Jordan with his family in 2001, resettling in Sacramento in 2007. “He shared the beauty of humanity through his art and wanted to make a difference,” his sister told The Bee after his death.

Fidette Concepcion, who arranged the Capitol exhibit, said she met Alawsi at an art class at Cosumnes River College in 2009 and was introduced to his family. “He said, ‘There are three things I love in life: I love music, I love art, and I love women, not in that order.’ ”

Alawsi was an art teacher in Iraq and in the refugee camp in Amman, Jordan, and for three years taught art to adults with disabilities at Aim Higher Adult Development Center in Elk Grove, Concepcion said.

He supported his brother and sister through his job as a security guard and an art teacher at Cosumnes River College, Concepcion said. He also volunteered at the Sacramento Fine Arts Center in Carmichael. “He put in a lot of hours and was always willing to help – he hung artwork, worked in receiving and volunteered in the children’s program,” said fellow volunteer Deanna Green.

Alawsi’s dream was to travel the world showing his art, said Concepcion, who owns several of his works. Pan, whose district office is not far from the Home Depot where Alawsi was slain, said he wanted to honor Alawsi’s memory. “He really contributed to the community through his art,” Pan said. “Our community believes in acceptance, and he was a man of tremendous talent. That’s the kind of person we want.”

Caylor, who will spend life in prison without parole if convicted of Alawsi’s murder, has not been charged with a hate crime. “There is no evidence of it being a hate crime at all,” said Caylor’s defense attorney, Pete Kmeto.

Caylor has been charged with murder with special circumstances for discharging a firearm from a motor vehicle with intent to inflict death; being an ex-felon with a gun; using a gun in a burglary and home invasion robbery; assault with a firearm in the burglary; vehicle theft; and attempted murder of the landlord of the smoke shop he operated in Carmichael on March 17. Caylor’s girlfriend, Kari Ann Hamilton, has been charged with burglary, armed robbery, auto theft and attempted murder.

Both have pleaded not guilty. But Caylor, who was arrested for auto theft and driving under the influence in Butte County, shocked the court at his April 3 arraignment when, according to court transcripts, he said, “I’m telling you, Your Honor, the Court, the State of California, I plead guilty to everything. Everything they said in Butte County, everything they said in Sacramento, everything they said in Rockin, I plead guilty to everything ... they’re going to find me guilty anyways. It doesn’t matter if I fight it all the way to the end, they’re going to find me guilty of what they want to regardless of how deep my evidence is, it doesn’t matter.”

Caylor claimed he couldn’t get a fair trial in Sacramento County. “They’re going to kill me in Sacramento anyways. I’m not talking about the court system, I’m taking about crooked … cops over there.”

A preliminary hearing in the case is scheduled for July 18.

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