- Published on Tuesday, 10 January 2012 07:14
- Written by John Draper
- Hits: 2351
In June 2009, Kingston police arrested Mohammed Shafia, his wife - Tooba Mohammed Yhaya and their son Hamed Shafia on four murder charges. The victims were daughters Zainab Shafia, 19, Sahar, 17, Geeti, 13 and Rona Amir Mohammed, 50. Rona was Mohammed's first wife but never divorced. The four were found in their new Nissan Sentra in a canal near Kingston. Police evidence shows it had been pushed into the canal by Mohammed's Lexus. The trial started in October 2011 and included clear evidence that the parents and son were motivated to kill to preserve the honour of the family. There was extensive coverage of the earlier arrest, preliminary hearings and trial in earlier articles: Honour Killing in Canada; 4 killed, 3 arrested; Update on Kingston Honour Killings; Kingston Honour Murders Trial (most recent). Coverage of the trial continues.
Tooba Yahya, the mother of the murdered children, took the stand and was walked through her life by defense counsel. Rona had wed Shafia in 1979 but had been unable to conceive. Finally the couple agreed to take another spouse. She married Shafia in their native Kabul in 1988. The marriage was arranged by their parents and Rona Mohammed (That is different!). Tooba would eventually give her husband seven children, two sons and five daughters.
Tooba testified how the family had fled Afghanistan after the civil war and the emergence of the Taliban, moving first to Pakistan, then Dubai, then Australia and back briefly to Dubai before emigrating to Canada. Rona was left behind - actually with a brother - in Germany, while Shafia arranged for her to enter Canada on a visitor's visa. He would later apply for landed immigrant status for Rona, describing her as a relative who'd long helped to care for the children.
"We wanted her to be with us for the rest of our lives," Ms. Yahya said of the first wife, Rona Amir Mohammad. "Rona was one of our family members." She agreed that while she and her husband are Shiite Muslims, and Ms. Mohammad was a Sunni, the differences were irrelevant.
Within the family, tolerance was the norm, Ms. Yahya testified. Apart from herself, none of the family was particularly religious, she said; no one attended mosque regularly, and there were no rules for the girls of the family about, for instance, wearing the hijab, the Muslim head scarf.
She contradicted other evidence that had been given and said that she and wife #1 (Rona) got on together quite well. Proof? "It was normal. Never between us was there physical fighting," she said. And arguments - to be expected of all human beings - usually lasted no longer than five minutes, she said.
For more and some commentary, Christie Blatchford in the National Post is worth a read.
January 10, 2011 update
Tooba Yahya, now says she lied to police when she said she was at the Kingston Mills lock at the time the car went into the water. She said she made up a story about being there because she feared her son Hamed would be tortured by police. She said she was given the impression that Hamed was going to be left in a cold cell and was influenced by her experience in her home country of Afghanistan. "The only way for me to get Hamed out of that torture - whatever I could have done - I would have done that to put myself in that place there," she said through a translator Tuesday.
During a police interrogation on July 22, 2009, Yahya told police she had been at the scene when the car went into the water - but fainted after she heard a splash and couldn't recall anything beyond that. But now Yahya says that she realized her error later and tried to explain her mistake to police the next day.
You'd have to be a slow witted juror to not see that she's now had lots of time to make up a story.
Under cross-examination, Tooba also denied ever hearing about so-called honour killings.
"In 21 years when I was in Afghanistan, I never see that a stupid mother or a stupid father do anything like this," she said, adding that honour cannot be restored with an act of violence.
She's been here long enough to know what she's expected to say.....
Update, January 11, 2012
Tooba Mohammad Yahya testified Wednesday it didn't occur to her to tell police that her family had visited, on several occasions, the isolated spot in Kingston where four family members were found dead, when she was taken there by officers weeks after the deaths.
"At that time, no one asked us to tell that," Yahya said Wednesday morning, at the beginning of her third day on the witness stand.
"But it must have struck you: 'Oh my God, this is the place that that we were, a couple of times before, I should tell police,'" Crown prosecutor Gerard Laarhuis wondered.
"At that time it didn't cross our mind sir, to tell this right away to the police," Yahya, 42, said.
In an aside, the prosecutor asked about the date of the victims funerals: "You don't know the date you buried your daughters?" Laarhuis asked, incredulously, clearly veering off-script from his prepared cross outline. Tooba: "It was in July. I don't know the date it was. I know it was a Sunday." It was July 5, 2009. Yet she is clear on the details of her new story…..
There is some confusion over an album of photos of the daughters that caused Shafia to get angry. It included a photo of Sahar in a bikini.
Tooba has testified she found the pictures several days after the murders but media interviews show the family holding an album that looks identical in the immediate aftermath of the deaths. Tooba has said they had several identical books. Right.
The prosecutor, Gerald Laarhuis, spent most of the morning probing another unwelcome discovery in the Montreal home - revealing photographs of Sahar in lingerie, and pictures of her posing with young men.
But Toona could not explain why she placed the photographs in a suitcase often used by her two co-accused - her husband Mr. Shafia and their eldest son, Hamed. She intended to keep them, she said, because "they were precious to me."
The pictures go to the heart of the defence case, which is that the two parents only learned about their daughters' supposedly immoral conduct after they died, when the photos were unexpectedly found. It was those photos, they insist, that caused the couple to make incriminating remarks about their dead daughters, overheard on police wiretaps.
But why put them in the suitcase, Mr. Laarhuis wanted to know, and not destroy them?
"The very photos that caused your husband to call your daughters whores, filthy, dirty - these are the pictures you wanted to keep?" Yahya was vague. It was the proper place to put them, she said. As well, 29 pictures of the fourth person the trio is charged with killing, Shafia's first wife, Rona, were found in the suitcase when police searched the house. Ms. Yahya told the trial she must have put them in there inadvertently.
The prosecution, however, contends the photos had long been in the suitcase, which had accompanied Mr. Shafia and his son on an earlier trip to Dubai, which is possibly where the alleged murder was planned.
Tooba also admitted finding condoms in Sahar's room but says she was not concerned since they probably belonged to Zainab who had been married briefly. Right….. She did say she didn't tell Shafia because he would get angry. Most dads would be at least unhappy. Seems she is trying to paint a picture that she and Shafia have Canadian values. Right. That's why the girls were wanting to escape home A.S.A.P.
Update, January 12
Tooba continued under cross-examination all day today - it was mostly focused on bringing out contradictions between her testimony at different times. The intent is to show that her testimony cannot be triusted, Usually the accused are not out on the stand but the defence has in this case. Given that each accused had a different lawyer and that the lawyers were changed between being charged and the trial, it's likely that the accused feel they know better than the lawyers and are directing them on what to do. Big mistake.
But Tooba's words are best summarized by a comment by Christie Blatchford at the National Post: "She is the human equivalent of the tap that can’t be turned off and yet, for all her words, she says little that is not qualified to within an inch of its life."
Toob's cross examination continues tomorrow.
Update January 13
The Prosecution continued the cross-examination of Tooba Yahya today and she said "We are not murderers" Apart from that and similar statements, there was nothing new.
Before court adjourned for the weekend, the prosecutor said he likely has another two hours of questions for Yahya, who was on the witness stand for five consecutive days.
Defence lawyers are expected to call several more witnesses before the trial concludes.
Update, January 16, 2012
The trial continued today with cross-examination of Tooba Yahya continuing but today she went on the offensive. She accused the prosecuting attorney of having an overactive imagination and likening his theory of what happened to a child's bedtime story.
She said that Laarhuis was making up a false story and "showing it off in front of everybody here."
"No, dear sir, this is what were made in your brain," Yahya said in Dari, her first language, through an interpreter. She said his "stories" were like what a mother tells her child to put them to sleep.
"But this is a court date," Yahya said. "People want to know the truth, not to make up stories from your mind."
Update, January 17, 2012
I guess the defense learned their lesson and Hamed will not be taking the stand. His testimony might help his case but the cross-examination would destroy him.
The last witness was his half-brother Mohammad Anwar Yaqubi who grew up with him in Kabul, Afghanistan. He is a doctor and now lives in the Netherlands. He testified that the foul curses Shafia is heard uttering on secret police wiretaps don't suggest he killed his children. Yaqubi acknowledged he has had only sporadic telephone contact with his brother in the past 18 years.
"This is not the place for my brother to be in there, because my brother is not a murderer," Yaqubi testified, in answer to a question by Crown prosecutor Gerard Laarhuis. Yaqubi, who testified in Dari through an interpreter, said Canadians cannot understand that in his culture and language, Afghani men use the same curses to describe simple problems in life, like the theft of hubcaps, and the death of children. He said he believes his brother still uses an expression that he learned in childhood, to "cut someone in pieces with a cleaver" when enraged. Shafia is heard on one of the police wiretaps saying, of his dead daughters: "Even if they come back to life a hundred times, if I have a cleaver in my hand, I will cut (them) in pieces."
He also said he has never heard of honour killing - even though he lives in the Netherlands! "So you're telling us that you've heard Afghan fathers talking about chopping up their own children with a cleaver but you've never heard about honour killing?" Laarhuis asked.
"Regarding killing for reputation or honour I never heard that . . . and this is a wrong label which has been put here, put on a traffic accident," he replied in a long and rambling answer about the pain he has felt at seeing the media reports portraying his brother as a killer.
On the wiretap recordings, played for jurors, Shafia calls his daughters "whores," "filthy" and "rotten children" who betrayed the family and Islam and brought "cruelty" to Shafia by secretly taking boyfriends and by wearing revealing clothes.
"I think they should be released and those people who are in charge of these interrogations or investigation, they didn't do their job properly," Yaqubi testified.
"This was multimillionaire family," Yaqubi testified. "They had the best house in (a Kabul neighbourhood) and they had the best Mercedes-Benz and they were the envy of the other families and the jealousy caused them to say these things."
Yaqubi acknowledged that he did not know that Zainab had run away from home, that Sahar had attempted suicide, that Geeti had asked to be removed from the home by child protection authorities and that police had been to the Shafia home several times in the two years they lived in Montreal.
Laarhuis suggested Yaqubi did not really know what was going on in the Shafia home.
Yaqubi said the things he had been told seemed to be problems but "in reality, this is not a proper analysis, I think."
The trial continues tomorrow.
Source National Post.
Update January 18, 2012
Jurors today heard the case's 58th and final witness and then were told by the judge that the fate of the three accused will be in their hands in one week.
The last witness, the eighth called by the defence, was a social anthropologist who testified as an expert on Afghan culture and the Dari language. He was on the witness stand for roughly one hour.
"Jury, that's all the evidence that's going to be called in this trial," Justice Robert Maranger said. "What we're going to do now is, the counsel and I have some work to do before they can give their closing arguments to you and I give you my final jury charge."
Maranger said the lawyers will make their closing submissions Monday and Tuesday - defence lawyers will speak first - and the judge will address them Wednesday.
"The case will be in your hands Wednesday, Jan. 25," Maranger said.
Today's final witness, Nabi Misdaq, said he listened to some of the original Dari conversations in the wiretaps and read all of the translations. He said Afghan men are known to routinely use foul curses, particularly within their families.
Shafia testified that his curses on the wiretaps flowed from anger that his children had put the family in this terrible situation - having to cope with the deaths - and with the behaviour of his daughters. He insisted he did not see pictures of the two oldest girls in revealing clothes that particularly enraged him until after their deaths.
Misdaq was asked if there is a North American equivalent to Shafia's devil-graves slur.
"I think the nearest will be to say, 'To hell with them,' or, 'To hell with it,' something like that" Misdaq testified.
Update - 24 January, 2012
All evidence has now been presented and witnesses heard and cross-examined - now it's time for the defense lawyers to summarize. For some unknown reason, each defendant has chosen a separate lawyer so there will be three summaries. First summary was from Peter Kemp, lawyer for Mohammad Shafia. After the other two, it will be the prosecutor's turn.
Kemp summarized his case by saying that there simply wasn't enough time to commit murder.
Kemp pointed out that the family had showed up at the Kingston East Motel from 2:10 to 2:20 a.m., based on testimony by the motel manager. But then there was also evidence that a "probable match" for the Lexus was shown on five highway cameras in the Montreal region starting at 4:25 a.m. and ending at 4:49 a.m.
"If you assume that this evidence is correct and that it takes two hours, at a minimum," to drive from Kingston to the bridge leading to the Island of Montreal, Kemp offered, that means "Hamed would have to be on the highway at 2:25 a.m. - five minutes after he left the motel."
"So there was no time for a murder to take place."
Kemp also asked why did none of the witnesses the Crown called to the stand who testified they feared for the victims' lives ever call police with those concerns? Yahya's brother Fazil Javid, who lives in Sweden, reported that Shafia called him with a plan to invite the family to his country, where he'd drown Zainab at a waterside barbeque. "None of these people were concerned enough to call police," Kemp commented.
Why would Shafia have been building a new, larger home for the family in a Montreal suburb if he had been intending to kill four of them?
Kemp said the only reasonable explanation for all of this is that it was, instead, an accident, as the family has claimed all along. Zainab took the keys that night at the motel. And the joyride went horribly wrong.
He envisioned the women inside the vehicle as it hit the water, describing panic and disorientation as the water gushed in the vehicle in the pitch blackness. "More than likely they would bang their heads on the doors or windows, climbing over one another to get out of the vehicle. And they weren't successful."
Three of the four victims were found to have bruising on their heads.
"With all these unknowns it's only speculation that can provide the answers," Kemp concluded. "And speculation is not proof beyond a reasonable doubt."
After Kemp concluded, David Crowe, lawyer for Tooba Yahya repeated much the same thing. On Wednesday, the lawyer for Hamed, Patrick McCann, will summarize.
From Toronto Star
Update, January 25, 2012
Patrick McCann, the lawyer representing Hamed Shafia, said his client is guilty of being "stupid" but not of murder. He said that the account Shafia gave to a private investigator — that he followed the girls to the Kingston Mills locks, that they went in by accident and that he didn't call 911 or tell anyone because he was afraid of his father's reaction —was the truth.
"Hamed is guilty of being stupid — morally blameworthy — but other than that, he is not responsible for the girls' deaths, nor were his parents," McCann said. "It's time to put an end to this Kafkaesque [episode] they've been going through for the past two and a half years, since the night of June 30."
McCann also suggested that his client's sisters were manipulative, made up stories of abuse to get their way and that any testimony about their claims was unreliable.
McCann explained to the jury why they could not convict his client based on what he said was largely hearsay evidence.
The prosecutor then started his summary and said that the physical evidence connected to the deaths of four family members found in the Rideau Canal proves that they were murdered. In particular, pieces of the Lexus headlight were found at the scene and showed that it had pushed the Nissan sedan into the water.
The prosecutor is expected to finish his summary Thursday (25th). At that point, Judge Robert Maranger will begin his charge to the jury, which is expected to go into Friday.
It could mean the jury in the Shafia murder case will be deliberating this weekend.
Update 26 January 2012
In her closing remarks, Prosecutor Laurie Lacelle said Mohammad Shafia, 59, his wife Tooba Yahya, 42, and their son Hamed Shafia, 21, were involved in the planning, execution and coverup of their murders. "Their solution" Lacelle said of the accused, "was to remove the diseased limb entirely and prune the tree back to the good wood."
Lacelle talked about the warnings that were allegedly given to Yahya from two family members about her husband's intention to kill Zainab. She did nothing, Lacelle said, because she already knew about the plan and was involved in it.
She also told the jury the Nissan was specifically purchased for the murder plot and bought a day before the trip. Lacelle said that Mohammad Shafia's response that the car was purchased so Zainab would have a car to drive wasn't plausible because there were already plans for Zainab to marry another man and would soon be out of the house.
"The purchase of the Nissan was part of the murder plan," Lacelle told the jury. "If the plan was to stage an accident that accounted for the deaths of four people, a car would have to be sacrificed, too." Pieces of the family's Lexus SUV were found at the scene where the Nissan sedan plunged into the Rideau Canal on June 30, 2009.
Lacelle spent a significant amount of time on Yahya's role in the alleged murder plot. According to the Crown's theory, Yahya drove the women to the locks in the Nissan and waited there with them until Hamed and Mohammad Shafia returned from dropping the other children at a motel.
Lacelle also addressed the timeline issue that defence lawyers said proved the accused did not have enough time to commit the murders. She said the accused had ample time - around an hour and 15 minutes, possibly longer - to drown the four women, put them in the car and push it into the water.
The defence's argument was largely based on data from traffic cameras in Montreal, which they said showed Hamed in the family's Lexus early on the morning of June 30. Lacelle pointed out that the traffic camera only caught an image of a silver SUV, not a licence plate or anything that would identify it as belonging to Shafia.
"The highway footage is nothing more than a red herring," Lacelle said. "Don't be distracted by it."
She said Hamed could have left Kingston as late as 3:48 a.m. and still had time to get to Montreal by 6:48 a.m., when cellphone records indicated he received a call from his father, who was at the Kingston motel.
In her summation, Lacelle also reminded jury members that they don't have to know what happened or how it happened precisely to convict the three accused of first-degree murder.
"It should come as no surprise in a quadruple murder where the only witnesses are either dead or on trial, that there may be some holes," Lacelle said, calling the evidence "overwhelming and irrefutable."
"The Crown has proved all essential elements of the offence. You know this is not an accident. It was murder."
On Friday, the judge will start his charge to the jury members, who will then begin their deliberations.
1. Update 27 January, 2012
Judge Maranger gave his charge to the Jury today where he explained what they must do and their options.
He told the jurors that they alone are the judges of the facts. He explained they can find the accused guilty of first-degree — or premeditated — murder; or of second-degree murder, where the deaths were not planned. They may also find the accused not guilty. A finding that one or more of the accused aided or abetted the principal offender in the case could still apply to either first- or second-degree murder, he explained.
But, he said, just because all the defendants are charged with the same offences and are all being tried together, doesn't mean they have to make the same decision for everybody.
He told the jury that a finding of guilt must be beyond a reasonable doubt. “However,” he said, “it’s nearly impossible to prove anything with absolute certainty, and Crown Counsel is not required to do so.”
He also explained what circumstantial evidence is, adding there was a “great deal of circumstantial evidence” in this case.
He also said that although the Crown presented evidence for motive, a motive is not necessary to find the defendants guilty. “The Crown must prove the accused intended to commit the offence, not that the accused had a motive,” he explained.
2. Update Friday, January 27, 2012
The jury has now commenced their deliberations so some additional information can be released.
Some evidence was not presented to the jury because a judge ruled it inadmissible. But they add to the prosecutors case. Briefly:
- An 8 year old boy was an eye-witness to the events at the lock and confirmed that 2 cars were at the lock and they were there just before 2:00am contrary to Hamed's testimony that it was after 2:00am.
- Jurors also did not hear about an incident in which Shafia waved a knife at his wife, Yahya, and threatened to stab her, according to Fazil Javid, Yahya's brother. Javid said it happened at the Shafia home in Montreal a week after the deaths. Javid said he was leaving the Shafia house, walking to a car, when he heard a commotion behind him. He turned to see that his sister, Yahya, was crying, coming after him, asking him not to leave and making some sort of gesture with her hand across her throat, suggesting that she was fed up. Shafia was following her with a large kitchen knife that he estimated had a six-inch blade. Javid said another one of his brothers who was there was restraining Shafia.
- Jurors also did not hear about a purported scheme to send Rona Mohammad back to Afghanistan from Canada. Montreal lawyer Sabine Venturelli testified at the preliminary hearing in February 2009 that Mohammad was seeking permanent residency and her application was progressing well, when the lawyer received a phone call from Zarmina Fazel, an aunt of Yahya's who lives in Montreal in April or May 2009. Fazel, who spoke French and often translated for Shafia, was speaking on his behalf. Sabine said: "(She was) telling me that Mrs. Rona was causing problems to the Shafia family and that Mr. Shafia was asking me to close the file of Mrs. Rona and to have her sent back to Afghanistan," Venturelli testified at the preliminary hearing. "He was offering me an honorarium of $10,000." She later recanted her testimony - threats?
- While jurors heard considerable evidence that revolved around a lengthy police interrogation of Yahya, they did not know that Yahya fought to keep the interrogation out of their hands. During a hearing held in February 2010, David Crowe, Yahya's lawyer, argued that Yahya did not understand the process during the interrogation and she was offered improper inducements in exchange for her answers.
The jury returned their verdict after 15 hours of deliberation: they found all three accused guilty of first-degree murder. Justice Robert Maranger said: "It is difficult to conceive of a more despicable, more heinous crime,". They were immediately sentenced to a “life” sentence of 25 years with no chance of parole.
"This is a good day for Canadian justice," the chief Crown prosecutor Gerard Laarhuis said outside the courthouse, adding the four women were "murdered by their family in the most troubling of circumstances." "This verdict sends a very clear message about our Canadian values and core principles in a free, democratic society that all Canadians enjoy and even visitors to Canada enjoy," he said. Patrick McCann, Hamed’s lawyer, told The Canadian Press his client will appeal and his parents likely will as well.
Afghan witnesses who testified against the Shafias are now being shunned by the Afghan community in Montreal. It seems they support the murders by Shafia. They bring their prejudices and attitudes with them. Who said it was just an isolated few people?
Latif Hyderi, an uncle of Yahya who lives in Montreal, testified that Shafia told him that Zainab was a whore and while he was away on business said: "If I was there, I would have killed her."
Mr. Hyderi's son, Reza, 31, said that his family was threatened after deciding to go to the police with suspicions that the deaths were not an accident.
"We used to receive calls from people, threatening over the phone," he said. One cousin warned him not to "create problems for yourself and for others."
Since ignoring the threats, his family "has been completely abandoned by the Afghan community," he said, calling the response disturbing.
"Honestly I don't care about myself. I don't care if they don't talk to me or if I'm not in their society," Mr. Hyderi said.
"But my parents, they're very, very good people, and this is their world. They cannot communicate either in English or in French. They've grown up in Afghan society. It's everything to them. And suddenly you snatch everything from them.… It's a punishment for the fact that my Dad went to testify against Mr. Shafia."
Fazil Javad, a brother of Yahya, travelled from Sweden to testify about another conversation with Shafia. He said Shafia had talked about planning a family trip to Sweden to kill Zainab. "He told me that we will put her in water and drown her," Mr. Javad testified. He said Shafia cursed his daughter and complained that she was dating a young Pakistani man.
Mr. Hyderi said Mr. Javad, his cousin, has also been ostracized by the family for speaking out.
The third family member to testify for the Crown was Diba Masoomi, a sister of Ms. Mohammad living in France. She had written to police soon after the deaths to alert them something was fishy. To begin with, she could not understand why Ms. Mohammad had been referred to as a cousin when she was the first wife in Shafia's polygamous marriage. But worse, she reported that Ms. Mohammad and Zainab had received death threats.
Wali Abdali, Ms. Masoomi's brother, said his sister was frightened by the calls. "Three times they called after my sister had filed a complaint against Shafia about the deaths. They called her telling her to withdraw her complaint," Mr. Abdali said. "They said they are not murderers, they never killed anyone, you have to withdraw your complaint."
She persisted, travelling to Kingston, Ont., to testify at the preliminary inquiry and at the trial. In November she testified that before her death, her sister had told her about overhearing Shafia plotting to kill Zainab. "I will kill her because she dishonoured me," she quoted Shafia as saying.