- Published on Tuesday, 11 October 2011 11:55
- Written by John Draper
- Hits: 25087
Jury selection began today in Kingston, Ontario for the trial of three muslims accused of the murder in 2009 of four women to preserve the honour of the family. Mohammad Shafia, his wife Tooba Mahommad Yahya, and their son, Hamed, are accused of first-degree murder in the deaths of the Shafias' three daughters Zainab (19), Sahari (17), Geeti (13) and Rona Amir Mohammad (53 - Mohammad Shafia's polygamous first wife who was acting as a kind of nanny and called "auntie" in public).
Jury selection is expected to take 7 days from a pool of over 1,000 people. On the first day, 150 prospective jurors are expected to attend for the jury selection process. A publication ban had been placed on earlier proceedings so that potential jurors had some chance of being impartial. The trial will be conducted in four languages - English, French, Farsi and Spanish - with translators working out of a booth specially constructed in the main courtroom of the courthouse.
The elder Shafias, originally from Afghanistan, require translation into their native Farsi, a dialect of Persian. Their son is able to follow the proceedings in English.
In October of 2010, proceedings resumed for the judge to hear pre-trial motions. The Crown revealed at that time that charges of conspiracy to commit murder, initially laid against each of the three accused in 2009, had been withdrawn.
The case is scheduled to run for three months.
This case was reported extensively on this site when it occurred (June 2009) - go to Update on Kingston Honour Killings for more.
October 12 - 8:00am
Mohammad Shafia, his wife Tooba Mahommad Yahya and their son, Hamed, are each charged with four counts of first-degree murder and pleaded not guilty. The trial is officially set to start on Oct. 20 but could begin earlier if jury selection moves along more quickly than expected.
Justice Maranger indicated Tuesday that while the court is prepared to sit into January, he is hoping that the trial could be concluded by Dec. 16. There are 57 names on the list of potential witnesses.
Under the jury challenge system, each person is first vetted for suitability by the presiding judge. If they pass that stage, they are subject to several challenge questions from the defence lawyers and deemed either eligible or ineligible by two previously selected jurors. They were also asked if they would have any biases because the accused come from Afghanistan and are Muslim. Twelve jurors plus two designates need to be selected in total.
More at Kingston Whig-Standard
October 13 - 8:00am
Two more jurors were chosen Wednesday at Frontenac County Court House, compared to eight on Day 1, for a total of 10. That leaves two more jurors and two alternates yet to be found to enable the trial to begin.
Seven days have been set aside for jury selection with more than 1,000 people on call as potential jurors. Wednesday, 81 more people were scrutinized.
So far, the composition is evenly divided: five men and five women.
This trial is getting a lot of media attention with all the major news organizations present - some are in photo above.
Below is a video of the accused arriving at the trial on Tuesday.
Thursday October 13, 2011, 8:00pm
By the end of the day the last 2 jurors and alternates were selected. The 14 were selected from 254 candidates and the resulting jury has 6 men and 6 women. Looks like they'll have a break tomorrow since the court appears to be sticking to their schedule. The court will hear pretrial motions next Tuesday, October 18. The trial is scheduled to begin next Thursday, 20 October.
A report from Rob Tripp at CanCrime (based in Kingston) adds the following:
The Shafia mother, father and son are each charged with four counts of first-degree murder. Three Shafia sisters, Zainab, 19, Sahar, 17, and Geeti, 13, were found dead inside a submerged car that was discovered in a shallow canal in Kingston on June 30, 2009. A woman, Rona Amir Mohammad, 52, also was dead in the car. She was Mohammad Shafia's first wife. Shafia, originally from Afghanistan, took two wives in his native country before bringing his 10-member family to Canada in 2007. He is a wealthy businessman who imported and exported a variety of goods, was a landlord of a suburban shopping mall in Montreal and bought and sold cars.
Prospective jurors called to the Kingston courthouse over three days were told by the judge, Mr. Justice Robert Maranger, that it is alleged the incident was staged to look like a car accident but in fact the victims were drowned "by the accused."
Every prospective juror was quizzed whether he or she would be able to complete the task of deciding the fate of the accused in an impartial manner, based solely on the evidence heard in court, and despite the fact that the accused are from Afghanistan and are "of the Islamic faith." Several prospects unabashedly answered no to the question and were hastily sent home.
October 15, 2011
By Rob Tripp
Prosecutors will call up to 58 witnesses, beginning Oct. 20, including 21 police officers. Four Montreal police officers are on the prospective witness list.
During the three-day jury selection process, which ended Oct. 13, the accused appeared relaxed. In clear voices, each formally pleaded not guilty to the charges several times, as groups of prospective jurors were selected.
Shafia had taken two wives in his native Afghanistan before bringing his 10-member family, including seven children, to Canada in 2007. The family also lived in Pakistan, Dubai and Australia. [Victims at right - click to enlarge and get more detail].
The wealthy Kabul businessman established several businesses in Montreal, including an import/export operation, and the family settled in an apartment in St. Léonard. At the time of the arrests, Shafia was building a luxurious, 6,000-square-foot home in an exclusive neighbourhood in Brossard. The house has since been sold.
The Shafia trial was supposed to have begun in April, but in January, Hamed Shafia fired his Kingston lawyer and replaced him with veteran Ottawa criminal defence lawyer Patrick McCann. "He is, I think, glad that this trial is finally underway," McCann said. "He, of course, by changing lawyers, effectively caused about a six month (delay) but I think he's happy the way things are going." Kingston lawyer David Crowe, who represents the accused mother, declined to comment.
The trial will be conducted in four languages, including Spanish, French and Dari, one of the two official languages of Afghanistan. Hamed Shafia speaks English but his mother and father speak only fractured English. During the arraignment, Mohammad Shafia responded, "No guilty."
To accommodate the Dari speakers, a hi-tech system has been installed to permit three interpreters, who are working inside soundproof booths erected in the courtroom, to translate all of the proceedings simultaneously between Dari and English. Everyone in the courtroom wears headsets connected to wireless receivers.
A significant number of prospective jurors were rejected because they admitted they had hearing difficulties. The judge cautioned that because of the technology and the complex interpretation process, jurors must have good hearing.
Update, October 19, 2011
Most discussions that take place in the jury’s absence cannot be reported publicly until the trial concludes. That prohibition prevents journalists from reporting the substance of a sparring match between lawyers that took place Tuesday (18th). Defence lawyers were seeking to prevent Crown prosecutors from introducing some evidence. On Wednesday, Justice Robert Maranger ruled that evidence is admissible.
A broad non-publication order also is in force that restricts the ability of journalists to report fully on the Shafia family. The order will remain in force, even after the trial concludes.
From a report by Rob Tripp
Update, October 21, 2011
In the opening days of the trial, prosecutors introduced evidence that made it quite clear that the murders were motivated by "honour".
The Police wiretapped the father's phone and recorded him saying: "God's curse on them - May the devil shit on their graves ….. Is that what a daughter should be? Would (a daughter) be such a whore?"
Police also recorded conversations in the Shafia vehicle where he complained about his daughters' behaviour. Prosecutors said that they will introduce evidence about how some cultures practice honour killing if female family members do not follow the prescribed standards of modesty and obey the male family members.
In other evidence, a laptop used by the son, Hamed, had evidence of Google searches for "Where to commit a murder" and "Can a prisoner have control over their real estate".
The cause of death appears to be drowning. The victims were found in a Nissan Sentra in the Kingston lock. It was in first gear with the driver's side window down, the headlights switched off and the two front seats in the reclined position. In their police statements, Tooba and Hamed have both acknowledged that they were at the locks when the Sentra went into the water. The car was bought only days before the incident with the implication being that it was bought for the crime.
In additional damning evidence, the prosecutor says that the Nissan was propelled into the lock with the family’s Lexus but broke a headlight in the process. Pieces of this headlight were found at the scene of the murder and additional pieces were later found at the Shafia Montreal home.
During testimony, the two accused men remianed impassive but the mother sometimes wept. I can't help but see her as a victim - what choice did she have but to go along with what she was told?
October 21, 11:00pm
The trial today included cross examination of the police witness but other information became available.
Police found a diary in the Shafia home, Prosecutor Laurie Lacelle said, in which Rona documented a life of despair and mistreatment by Shafia and Tooba. An English translation of the diary was released Friday.
“He married a second time and I was visited with a new catastrophe,” Rona wrote, according to the translation.
Shafia took a second wife, a practice legal in Afghanistan, because Rona was infertile. In the diary, Rona describes the growing efforts of Tooba to “separate” her from Shafia and cut her out of the family.
“I said … you can’t kick me out, you are one wife of his, I am another,” Rona wrote. “She said, ‘You are not his wife, you are my servant.’ "
October 24, 2011
Evidence was given today from two divers who went into the canal to retrieve the car that was submerged with the 4 victims inside. They assumed it was an accident but what they saw made it clear that it was not.
Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star reports:
The driver's side window on the vehicle was wide open. Even a non-swimmer, if conscious, would surely have attempted an escape and clambered to the car's roof, which was only some three feet below the surface of the water, leaning against the lock's northern-most gate. They could have stood and gasped for air and hollered for help. There were boaters nearby, spending the night on their vessels - a sailboat and a houseboat waiting to proceed through the locks from the Cataraqui River, come morning. But the occupants of the Nissan apparently never tried to escape.
"In most cases, with a window open, what you find is people trying to get out,'' testified Const. Glenn Newell, a veteran dive officer with the OPP's underwater search and recovery unit. "In this case, it didn't seem as if that was even an option.''
Over the course of his 24 years as a dive officer, Newell has pulled between 250 and 300 bodies out of water, more than a hundred of them from submerged cars. Victims unable to extract themselves from vehicles were typically entangled in seatbelts or blocked by steering wheels. But these females weren't wearing seatbelts, nor was there floating debris that might have impeded such efforts.
"In that shallow water, it would have made it simple for anybody who could get to that window to get out.''
He also reported that keys were still in the ignition and that the Nissan was in first gear. "Lodged the way it was, it should have been in reverse.'' That's because the car went in backwards.
Another diver said:
"What struck me was how shallow the water was and the window had been lowered completely and nobody had got out of the vehicle. That resonated with me quite profoundly."
Tomorrow, videos will be shown in court of this retrieval effort but the mother has asked to be excused from seeing them. Maybe her defence is that she is also a victim and not part of murders? She has already admitted to being present with he co-accused when the Nissan went in the water.
October 25, 2011
A video was shown today of the recovery of the car and the bodies inside. The mother was not in the court as previously agreed by the judge. Most of the video simply showed the position of the car and dents etc.
Other evidence today covered the fact that Mohammad Shafia and Hamed appeared at 2 a.m. on June 30 at the front desk of a small Kingston motel near the canal asking to rent two rooms. When clerk Robert Miller asked how many people were checking in, he was told nine people, then six. He said he saw only the two men and one vehicle, a large grey SUV.
After checking the men in, Miller watched the vehicle leave and head north toward Highway 401. "It struck me as odd," he testified. Miller stayed up to watch to see if the vehicle returned, but when it was not back within half an hour, he went to bed.
The fact is that the family number 10 - 7 children, 2 wives and the father. If Hamed was planning to go to Montreal (which he did - see next paragraph) that would make 9. But they knew already that there would be 4 less since they had just been put in the canal to drown. The time that the Nissan went into the canal was 1:36am since that's when the last cell phone transmission ocurred. So they were checking into a motel only a few minutes later.
A Montreal police officer testified that she was called to a strip mall parking lot a few blocks from the Shafia home in St. Léonard just before 8 a.m. that morning when Hamed Shafia called 911 to report a collision in the family's Lexus with a guardrail. Constable Nathalie Ledoux said she couldn't understand why the driver had steered so close to the barrier in the large parking lot. He asked her if he could have the damage repaired right away, Ledoux testified.
A Kingston police identification officer also testified that three days after the Sentra was found in the canal, he realized that pieces of broken headlight lens that appeared to come from the Lexus, and were collected in Montreal and at the canal, appeared to align. Constable Rob Etherington said he believed his discovery was fairly important.
"Something was going on that we didn't know about yet," he testified.
Update - October 26, 2011
On Wednesday, OPP Const. Chris Prent, an expert in collision reconstruction, was on the stand.
His testimony was complex, with lots of geometry, but he basically showed that the Nissan didn't go into the water under its own steam, but was pushed in by the Lexus, and that the push was needed because the Nissan got hung up on the lock gate, and that it isn't plausible that a simple rear-end collision, such as the one belatedly described by Hamed months after his arrest, could explain the damage to the Nissan. Add that to the damage to the Lexus which was shown to have happened at the scene and not in Montreal and it looks bad for the Shafias.
In short, Prent said, the circumstantial evidence puts the Lexus there at the locks, pushing the Nissan, contrary to what the accused first told police.
On Thursday (27th), the jurors will be taken to the lock where the murders took place - "to better appreciate some of the evidence".
Update October 27, 2011
In addition to the jury visiting the "scene of the crime" so they could better understand the evidence of how it simply could not have been an accident, there was also evidence from computer forensic specialist Constable Derek Frawley, of the Kingston Police. He examined the family's Toshiba A-200 laptop and prepared an extensive report on what he found, including:
- On June 3, 2009, a Google search for, "Can a prisoner have control over his real estate?"
- Dozens of Google and Google Maps queries throughout June on bodies of water in Quebec and Ontario, with hundreds of photographs viewed.
- On June 15, a search centred on a map that pictured Middle Rd. and Highway 401, a spot very near the Kingston Mill Locks.
- On June 16, searches on boat rentals, and renting "metal boxes" or "huge boxes."
- On June 15, with the unique identifier of "M. Shafia" attached to the search, the keywords were: "Facts documentaries on murders."
- On June 20: "Where to commit a murder."
This makes for good evidence of premeditation - at least for the dominant people in the family who had access to the laptop - that is, perhaps not the mother.
Update October 28, 2011
Today's evidence was mostly about a tape that was taken of the police interviewing the father and son at the police station when it was believed the whole thing was an accident.
But the son was so inconsistent in his responses that the police started to get suspicious.
His first mistake was when he said that Zainab, "wanted to be engaged and was anxious to go back" to the family's Montreal home. This, as the police later learned and the jurors have heard already, is a crock: Zainab in fact had recently run away from home and came back only when her mother promised she could marry her boyfriend. That marriage was annulled the same day it took place, and now Zainab was on offer to her mother's cousin.
Shafia seemed logical so long as he was talking about business - he volunteered, for instance, that he came to Canada as a "business" immigrant and owned a shopping mall in Laval, Que., and "I paid $2 million for it" - or when he kept his answers short.
But the officer, just trying to figure out who was who in the family and who had been in which car when the family left the Falls, wasn't eliciting many simple answers.
First, Shafia said his wife and son did the driving. Then he said his wife got tired, so they stopped near Kingston, and, in the morning when they woke up, the Nissan and the four were gone. Boom, just like that.
Then, pressed ever so gently by the detective, he said that when his wife got tired, Hamed took over at the wheel of the Nissan and he drove the Lexus. Then his wife had said no, she was fine now, and she drove the Nissan again. Then after another little while, she said she was tired and didn't want to go any further, and said he and Hamed went to find a hotel and the rest of them would wait.
"Where was this stop?" Det. Dempster asked. "I don't know because I don't know the place," said Shafia.
"Was it in the city?" the detective asked. "Yes," Shafia replied.
"By a store or something?" "On the road," said Shafia.
"Then what?" Det. Dempster asked. "So we go to the hotel and the wife joined us and that's it," Shafia said.
"How did your wife know which hotel to go to?" Det. Dempster said. "So, the wife stops there, on the road, and he and Hamed find a place, so he contacts her and says take the same road," Shafia said.
His tale became less internally consistent and more convoluted by the minute. There were holes you could drive a Lexus and a Nissan through at the same time. His words were like quicksand; the more of them he said, the more he seemed to get stuck. He had long, animated side discussions with the interpreter where he appeared impatient or cross.
Several times during the interview, when the detective was attempting to establish who had been in what vehicle or what motel room, Shafia had occasion to rhyme off the names of his family, including those of the newly dead.
At one point, Det. Dempster said, "So all the girls are in one room then?"
"Yes," said Shafia. "Which girls?" Det. Dempster asked, reasonable enough given that there were seven children, five of them girls, in the family. "The people who are not (here) now," Shafia replied.
He didn't flinch, wince, or show the slightest sign of distress. The box of tissues on the table in the room remained untouched. As Det. Dempster led him out of the room, Shafia looked pointedly at his watch.
The trial resumes Tuesday.
Update, November 1, 2011
The jury was today shown a video of the interviews police had with the accused. It turns out that because of their behaviour at the interviews, police suspected that they were not telling all they knew. Then, a few weeks after the murders, police executed a search warrant on their home so they knew they were suspects.
As part of the warrant, the police planted listening devices to gather more evidence. But less than a day later, in the early hours of July 22, 2009 the three left the house. The Police feared they were headed for the airport so arrested them.
One of the suspicious things was why should Hamed drive to Montreal in the early morning after the women were killed then return in another car? The car he did not drive was the family's Lexus - surely what you'd prefer to drive. But the reason was that he wanted to establish a reason for the damage to its headlight that had come from pushing the Nissan into the canal (see more above).
The big problem for the defense is that their story is weak. In the interview with Hamed, Detective Dempster clearly has a difficult time imagining a scenario under which the four women and girls would go for a joy ride together at 2 a.m., when they had been on the road non-stop since 6 p.m. that day.
Update Nov 2, 2011
I guess they read the papers yesterday which said they showed no emotion under interrogation so now mother and father (but not the son) cried when they saw the video of the mother being interviewed - where she had sobbed when shown photos of her children. (Video here) She now insists she didn't know beforehand that her husband was going to kill their girls - but she did nothing to stop him and did not cooperate with police when first questioned. I guess she's playing the victim role. Probably her only chance of a good defence.
Another snippet on police methods - it was revealed that "cell-phone tower records" were used to trace their movements on the night of the murders.
Update November 3, 2011
More from yesterday:
The mother acknowledged during a police interrogation that she had been told that her husband wanted to kill one of the girls.
"Believe me, he had never mentioned about killing them as, 'I want to kill the children,' " Tooba Mohammad Yahya said. "Not all, just her [Zainab]."
Mohammad Shafia was not with his wife and son as usual when officials led the two accused into the courtroom today (Nov 3). That was because he was in Kingston General Hospital “as a result of a fairly serious medical emergency”, according to Police. The trial was therefore postponed but it’s unclear when the trial will resume. The judge told the jury he would update them by next Wednesday (Nov 9).
Kingston police Staff Sgt. Chris Scott said the problem “needs to be looked after immediately.” “It’s strictly a medical issue, no injuries from any assault or any third-party intervention,” he said. “I have no information it was a suicide attempt"
Perhaps he had a heart attack when his wife admitted he planned to kill at least one of the girls.
Update November 5, 2011
Mohammad Shafia, 58 has been released from Hospital and is back at Napanee detention centre. The trial will resume Tuesday Nov 8.
Details of his medical emergency have not been released although it appears to be heart related. Best guess is that he has had a stent installed.
Update, November 8, 2011
Today the court heard testimony from a relative who lived in Sweden. He told how Mohammad Shafia told him on the phone about 19-year-old Zainab: “she is a stubborn lady. She is going to the library and using the Internet. She goes outside. She has contact with a Pakistani boy and wants to marry him. ‘And this is why I want to kill her.’ ’’ His plan when talking to the unnamed relative was that it should be done in Sweden and perhaps the relative (F.J.) would be the suspect.
When asked “Why would Shafia tell you, after 20 years of not speaking, that he had a plan to murder his daughter?’’, he answered: “That’s a very good question.’’ And then went on to say that Shafia, though not a bright man, had “a good brain’’ for concocting plans and the objective may have been to cast him, F.J., as the murder suspect. “Everybody knows his stubbornness, his arrogance and that I hated him. Everybody would have thought that I was the murderer. He wanted to deceive me . . . to do this stupid thing.’’
F.J. also revealed the alleged murder plot to Yahya. “I told her Shafia wants to kill Zainab. He told me, we’ll put her in the water and drown her. If he wants to take you on a trip, don’t go.’’ Should that scenario unfold, F.J. urged Yahya to contact police and child welfare authorities.
Court also heard Sahar and Geeti were also offensive to their father. Sahar had a boyfriend, too, and wore provocative clothing. Geeti, the littlest rebel, had been picked up for shoplifting, complained to school officials that she was being abused at home, and constantly pleaded to be placed with a foster family.
“Geeti was beaten up by Mr. Shafia,’’ said F.J. “Police and teachers had come to the home. Geeti could have been a very good witness here. She could have told us what was happening at home. She would be able to open up all the secrets. Rona, too. All those who were killed.’’
“Mother Rona,” as the children called her, was close to the girls, depressed about her marginal status within the family and had begged for a divorce. She’d earlier phoned F.J., he testified, to say that she’d asked Shafia to dissolve the marriage and had requested $50,000 so she could move to France, where a sibling lived. Shafia offered her $2,000, F.J. testified.
In this trial, participants have mostly avoided ethnic slurs yet in cross-examining F.J., Shafia’s lawyer, Peter Kemp said: “You and Shafia agreed that the Paki was not a good guy to marry?’’
Update, November 9, 2011
It appears that the mystery relative living in Sweden who gave testimony yesterday is Yahya's brother Fazil Javad. In continued testimony, he said he had weekly phone calls to the Shafias to talk about the family crisis over the eldest daughter Zainab's plans to marry her boyfriend. This included a conversation with Zainab who told him of abuse at the hands of her father and control exercised by her brother. Javad testified that Zainab told him that although she knew she wasn't ready, she had to get married to escape her home life and alleged abuse.
A video was also shown today of the interrogation of Mohammad Shafia. He first said that all his children were “pure and sinless” - shortly after he was asked to explain why his daughters told Quebec youth protection services that he and Yahya beat them. Shafia then said they were all liars except his son!
Update, November 10, 2011
A bug planted in the Shafia vehicle recorded a conversation where the three accused discussed the possibility there might be a video of the murders as suggested to them by the Police. But as Shafia says: "No, had there been one there, they would have checked it first thing and they would have held you to account that night," Yahya says it was pitch black outside and there was no glimmer of light. She says the police are lying and Shafia agrees. Sounds like the conversation of guilty people. Also seems the police do use some of the tricks we see on TV.
It was reported here earlier that the mystery relative was Yahya's brother Fazil Javad, but it has now been said that it was Yahya's uncle, Latif Hyderi (right). He has now finished testimony and publication of his name is no longer banned. There must have been two relatives testifying - or maybe reporters got it all confused?
Update, November 14, 2011
As mentioned above, the police put wiretaps in both the accused's car and their home. Today the court watched large screen TV replays of the conversations recorded with sub-titles of the translation from their native language Dari. These conversations were recorded the day before they were arrested.
Shafia can be heard saying "even if they hoist us onto the gallows ... we have not done anything bad." "God curse their generation, they were filthy and rotten children." "To hell with them and their boyfriends, may the devil shit on their grave."
He continues and compares his daughters to prostitutes for having boyfriends, and saying that nothing is more valuable to him than his honour.
And there's more. He also said: “It was all treason, they committed treason from beginning to end,” “They betrayed humankind, they betrayed Islam, they betrayed our religion and creed, they betrayed our tradition, they betrayed everything.” And speaking about his eledet daughter: “Is that what a daughter should be? Would a daughter be such a whore?”
Speaking with his son, Hamed, Shafia said, "I'm happy and my conscience is clear. They haven't done good and God punished them." But Hamed was not happy. In one of the calls, he was asked if he is "going to do something stupid" like commit suicide. "Our life is over for us," he replies. Oh well, maybe he is now looking forward to 70 virgins - or maybe he's not too sure....
November 18, 2011
Not much new evidence is surfacing but today a man Shafia hired as a private investigator testified that Hamed told him that he saw the car go into the water, so he dangled a rope over the ledge to check for signs of life.
He saw none, Hamed told the investigator, so he drove home and didn't tell anyone because he thought he would get in trouble for letting his sister drive without a licence.
November 19, 2011
Hamed Shafia had another story to explain the events of the night of the murders. He first gave it 4 months after his arrest to Moosa Hadi who was hired by the defense lawyers, The lawyers did not know that Hadi agreed, after meeting privately with Shafia at the detention centre, to conduct his own, separate investigation, largely because Hadi believe the family was innocent. Shafia paid him $4500 for his expenses.
An interview he recorded was played by the prosecution today.
Hamed told Hadi that he faked the crash with the guardrail in Montreal.
"I took the Lexus and hit to a post a bit," Hamed says, on the recording. Hamed told Hadi that after the family stopped at the motel, his sister Zainab, who did not have a licence, said she wanted to go for a drive.
"My sister said that she wants to drive the car and just go for a spin and then come back soon," Hamed says, on the recording. He said his first instinct was to tell his parents that the girls were going to take the car without permission, but he hesitated when he saw that his mother and father had gone to sleep. Instead, he decided to follow the girls, to make sure they returned safely.
The girls drove north from the motel and turned down Kingston Mills Road, which eventually crosses the canal. Hamed said he was following closely in the Lexus. Near the canal, the Sentra stopped suddenly.
"I hit the back (of the other car), but not hard, just the glass was broken, the glass of Lexus car," Hamed says, on the recording.
He got out to collect the broken pieces and while he did that, the Sentra turned off the road onto the grassy property next to the canal. Hamed said he thought they were going to steer around a rocky outcrop and back onto the road.
"I had (the pieces) in my hand when I heard the splash," he tells Hadi on the recording. He went to the edge of the water.
"At that moment, I think one of the lights was showing," he says on the recording. "There was a bit of light showing that I understood it had fallen (in) here." He returned to the Lexus and sounded the horn several times, hoping it would attract help.
He returned to the water's edge with a yellow rope.
"I put it in to the water, nothing happened," he tells Hadi. He called out, but got no response. In total, he estimated he spent seven or eight minutes at the canal, before he returned to the Lexus and decided to drive home to Montreal.
He wanted to call his parents or police, but feared he'd get in trouble.
"I was scared and changed my mind," he says on the recording. "I decided with myself not to say that I was with them."
Hamed told Hadi that he never told his parents what really happened that morning.
He had 4 months to come up with this story; sounds like he wanted to shield his parents and make it appear like manslaughter instead of first degree murder. Clever.
November 21, 2011
Evidence today focused on the man that the oldest daughter ended up marrying in an attempt to escape her father and brother. This man (Ammar Wahid) is a prosecution witness and testified how Zainab was afraid of her father and brother.
November 22, 2011
Today's evidence focused on the period after Zainab married Ammar Wahid. The next day she broke off with him - previous testimony was that she only married him to get away from her father and brother. But it seems that she didn't like her new husband so went home again. But then he started to stalk her so she phoned 911. When police interviewed her about that, she told an officer that she made the call at her mother's insistence and did not want to press charges. Wahid denies that and also denies that he asked her to wear a hijab which she did not want to do.
Zainab then wrote a letter to a friend saying: "Me and Ammar had a argument coz he didn't like the way I dress up . . . he was like wear hijab, I said no so I broke up with him." Then she added: "I hate guyz!! They r so stupid and betrayerz." Sounds like a typical Canadian teenager.
November 23, 2011
Not only was the oldest girl wanting to leave home, but the next two - Geeti and Saha - had reported abuse to their school but after reporting to the police, nothing more happened. They were left with their father who ended up murdering them.
Today, the vice principal of the Montreal school attended by Geeti Shafia grew emotional on the witness stand as she described the 13-year-old girl crying and pleading to be taken out of the family home in May 2009. “I was also crying because I didn’t know what to do anymore,” Nathalie Laramee said. “Many events were piling up on each other.”
How many times have we seen politically correct authorities not believing that fathers would kill their daughters? Will they believe now? When there is a report of abuse, just look to see if they are Muslim and then believe that there is a good chance the girls should be removed from the home.
November 24, 2011
Evidence presented today made it clear that 10 or more school teachers, social workers and police officers in Montreal knew the teenage girls in that family were in fear of their father and were most unhappy with their home life.
In one instance, the mother came to the school to check up on whether her 17 year old (Sahar) had kissed a boy. "The mother explained to us that she didn't accept her daughter would kiss a boy, and that it was not falling within the parameters of her values," the teacher testified.
The teacher lied and told her "no" but a Muslim male student "relative" at the school was planning to tell the father anyway that "she was a whore".
Thirteen year old Geeti was planning to move out when Zainab did, so all three were fearful. A Muslim teacher told her that she could not do that which made her "spitting angry".
Sahar Shafia, 17, pictured in a photo retrieved from her cellphone, which was found inside the sunken Nissan Sentra in which the three Shafia girls' bodies were found on June 30, 2009.
Update November 25, 2011
Evidence today covered the exact travelling done by the family while on their “vacation” to Niagara Falls. Police used cell phone data to track their whereabouts and it showed that Hamed went off to check out the Kingston locks in advance of the murders. Also, Sahar’s cell-phone was used continuously except went silent at 12.25 a.m., June 30 and was “out of service” at 1.36 a.m. By that point the phone and Shafia were at the bottom of the Kingston Mills Locks.
One unanswered question, why did the 4 people in the car not attempt to escape? Were they already unconscious? There seems to be no evidence on this question – autopsies did not help. At least not as far as current evidence suggests.
Early in his interrogation, the father said that his daughters might have been drugged but today a pathologist testified that the three sisters and their father's first wife had no signs of drugs or alcohol in their bodies. Forensic pathologist Christopher Milroy said he believed the four members of the Shafia family died by drowning. But he said he couldn't determine whether they were already unconscious when they plunged into the canal, nor whether they might have been drowned elsewhere and then dumped in the canal.
Milroy testified, too, about bruising on the heads of three of the four deceased, saying he was unable to determine what caused the internal bleeding or whether the victims would have been rendered unconscious by whatever prompted it.
Other testimony was about the older woman who was killed - Rona Amir Mohammad - she was also the one with the most significant injuries. She was the first wife of Shafia although there was never a divorce. She told a relative that Mohammad Shafia beat her in front of the children. The witness said that "She was shivering. She was afraid" and that Rona said: "I'm just fed up with my life. I ask God to finish my life. I want to be in an accident." The witness was dsaid to have come from thousands of miles away but cannot yet be named.
The witness also testified that Rona Mohammad told her Shafia had threatened to kill daughter Zainab for dishonouring the family by seeking help from social services.
November 29, 2011
Fahima Vorgetts, a volunteer with Women for Afghan Women, said she began taking calls from Rona Amir Mohammad, in the spring of 2008, after a referral through Vorgetts' aunt.
"She did say that he beat her up, the husband beat her up … he was pulling her hair."
"She said that her husband and her husband's wife were abusive towards her and she needs help, what to do, where to go," testified Vorgetts, a native of Afghanistan who lives in Virginia in the United States. "She did not have any information, knowledge about what to do in this country."
Vorgetts testified Rona would sneak out of the Shafia house in the evenings and call her secretly from a payphone, pouring out her story of abuse and humiliation. She used a payphone because her time on the phone was limited by Mohammad and Tooba.
"She said that her husband's wife would mock her, put her down in front of the family's guests," she testified. She said that during the phone calls, Rona would cry almost constantly. She said she was told that Rona was kicked by Shafia.
Vorgetts said she urged her to leave the house, go to a shelter, or a church or to police, but Rona told her she was afraid to leave. She said if she goes to the police her husband will kill her. She took it very seriously because her husband told her he will kill her if she leaves "She said if she leaves, her husband will kill her," she said.
Vorgetts said she was told the family held all of Rona's identity documents, including her passport, so Rona believed she could not flee to another country, where she had relatives.
Another person that Rona called was her younger sister Diba Masoomi who lived in France. She was a witness today and cried while recalling the physical and mental abuse from Mohammad Shafia that Rona told her about. Masoomi is the un-named witness who testified yesterday.
Another issue raised today was the fact that if Canadian immigration authorities knew about the fact that Rona was still Shafia's wife, he would have been deported becaue polygamy is illegal and he lied on his immigration application.
November 30, 2011
Sahar's boyfriend, Ricardo Ruano of Montreal, testified that she was terrified her parents would find out about him in the months before they killed her. Ricardo told the court about the furtive but intense relationship he and Sahar Shafia developed in the four months before she drowned. The couple were introduced in early 2009 by Sahar's older sister, Zainab, and quickly became "very serious." They talked about getting married and leaving the country because Sahar's parents would not have approved.
Once, a relative of Sahar's spotted them embracing in a restaurant, and demanded to know about their relationship. Sahar, 17, acted "like a person that's scared," the Ricardo said.
"She was scared of her family because they would find out about our relationship," he said. Six weeks, he finally met Sahar's parents and brother Hamed at her wake.
Ruano's aunt, Erma Diaz Medina, told the jury that Sahar said if her parents knew about her boyfriend, she would be a "dead woman." She testified that Sahar wanted to go to Honduras to marry Ruano because she felt it would be safer there.
Dec 1, 2011
Evidence today did not add much. It covered cell-phone conversations of Sahar with her boyfriend while she was travelling in the car back from their visit to Niagara Falls. One comment she made was ominous - her boyfriend testified that she said she found it very strange that they were in a different car than the father and brother. One item just revealed: the car (Nissan) that ended up in the canal was only new - the family already had an SUV and a mini van as well as the Lexus the men were in.
The boyfriend and Sahar had difficulty communicating: he is from Honduras and speaks Spanish and was just learning French at the time; she was from Afghanistan and spoke Dari/Farsi, English and French: They talked mostly in French, hers good, his rudimentary. But he knew he was not going to have an easy time with his girl friend. He believed her parents wouldn't approve of their relationship, let alone their fledgling plan to marry.
"I'm Latin-American," he said. "I'm a Christian. I understand in their religion (Islam), they can get married only among themselves."
"How do you know that, if Sahar didn't tell you?" prosecutor Gerard Laarhuis asked.
"That," said Angel Ricardo Ruano Sanchez evenly, as dignified as his name, "is something most of the world knows."
November 5, 2011
Ms. Shahrzad Mojab, University of Toronto professor and political refugee from Iran, testified Monday as an expert witness on the subject of honour killings. She said that honour killing was the result of the need of the men involved to control their women, particularly their sexuality - that they were considered to be property. She agreed with the Arabic expression that "A man's honour lies between the legs of a woman." These men believed that "the way to deal with the dishonouring is through the shedding of blood. It's a way of purifying the honour of the family and the community."
Further, in patriarchal cultures such as Afghanistan's, Mojab said, "cleansing one's honour of shame is typically handled by the killing of a loved one," almost always female, with the murderer often ending up being "respected as a true man."
"What masquerades as 'honour' is really men's need to control women's sexuality," she told the court.
There need only be a rumour of misbehaviour which would be interpreted as stains upon male control of the family - particularly any hint that a woman is having a relationship, especially a sexual one.
Usually the murderers are fathers, brothers, uncles but sometimes mothers help either by directly participating or "creating the environment (which supports honour killing) or not preventing the killing."
Mojab said that such fathers will often claim they loved their children, that the killing was "part of the continuum of love and care" and may claim that the suffering of the rest of the family, having to live as dishonoured, is greater than death.
Interestingly, Mojab said that in what she called "the sense of the frozen moment," immigrants to new countries may be stricter with their families even than their former countrymen back home.
Mojab said the notion of killing for honour "predates religion" although, in countries such as Iran and Afghanistan, it is sanctioned by Islam.
Mojab said the female body "represents the structure of the family." If women in the family act in a morally loose way, "it means they are not obeying the order. They are not submitting to the power of the patriarch of the family."
Compliance may be required in terms of how women dress, their choice of relationships and whether they are allowed to be educated.
"The honour belongs to the patrilineal, the male gender of the family," Mojab noted. "That's where it belongs and that's why the act of killing is acted and perpetrated by male members of the family." What's most important is that the patriarch is seen to be in control of his family and his household. If not, said Mojab, "it means he cannot be trusted for any other public matters, including financial relationships or even holding public office."
The Crown rested its case Monday. The defence will start presenting witnesses when the trial resumes on Thursday.
Update, Dec 8, 2011
Mohammad Shafia testified today in his own defense but in the light of the evidence, the best he could come up with was that "My children did a lot of cruelty to me." He also described himself as liberal-minded, kind, generous, dispensing of paternal advice and would have given his own life for his kids. "They had no fear of me, never" and it was only after their death that he heard of things that provoked his anger. "I swore at my children. They did treachery to me. They lied to me. They hid everything from us." "We took them to parks, buy them dresses, give them money, feed them." If one of them was late for one hour, I would go out searching for them. …. I would give them good advice and prevent them from doing bad things."
His testimony was at times hard to follow and rambled - his lawyer, Peter Kemp, didn't help much with his questions. The defense seems to be painting Shafia as a kind person who would never murder his children and that all the damning evidence came out after they were dead. Other items like the unhappiness at home, he is simply denying. As of yet, there's no alternative explanation for the deaths.
Shafia told the court that although he was a devout Muslim, his outlook was "liberal" which was largely why he fled Afghanistan in 1992, together with his two wives. And the only lie he told police, he testified, was in reference to his first wife, who he said was a cousin.
Although the mother admitted to being present when the car went into the canal, the judge said her testimony cannot be used as evidence against anyone else. But how can the jury ignore it?
More details in the Toronto Star.
Update, December 9, 2011
The prosecution cross-examined the father today and focused on inconsistencies in his earlier statements and his testimony yesterday.
Shafia, employing the respectful Afghan conversation, translated into English for the courtroom by a Dari interpreter: "Respected lady, in our Qur'an, it would never give us permission to do that. Respected lady, we would not be allowed to (killing).
He denied having anything to do with the deaths saying to the Crown attorney, Laurie Lacelle: "How is it possible someone would do this to their children, respected lady?" He denied there were any inconsistencies in his testimony, saying to Lacelle, "How is it possible someone would do this to their children, respected lady?" To which Lacelle snapped back: "Well, you might do it if you thought they were whores.''
When asked by Lacelle if he believed what happed to his "four family members" was fate, Shafia answered "Yes."
"There was nothing that could be done to stop it?" Lacelle pressed. Shafia again said "Yes."
Lacelle asked Shafia if he thought his daughters were responsible for their own deaths. "Respected lady, that was an accident which I never can think what's happened. I don't know this - what's happened," he said. "You believe their actions brought about their rightful death?" Lacelle asked.
"Yes," replied Shafia.
Shafia, who has been like an anvil in the witness box, appearing neither stricken nor bothered by the points Lacelle is clearly scoring as the jury looks on, countered without discomfort, justifying his use of the word "whores.''
"Again, that was only Zainab who did it. And Sahar, I didn't know this about her at the time (of the deaths). Two others were innocent and one, Geeti, was just a child.''
I guess he's had a while in jail to calm down and think of what he might say in defence. But his defence is poor - "It was an accident" and "I wouldn't kill my children". Right.
December 12, 2011
The Shafias had seven children - the three oldest are now dead but one of the younger sons was on the witness stand today. Being a defense witness, he said what was expected - that he did not believe his parents and older brother were capable of such a deed.
If they had had any such murderous intentions, it would likely have been himself who would have been the target, "because I used to do more (unacceptable) stuff than any of (the victims) did," the witness said.
In a videotaped police interview screened to the jury, the witness is shown being questioned by a Kingston detective, a few hours before the teen's father, mother, and older brother were arrested in Montreal on July, 23, 2009. The police officer makes clear what is going on. He tells the youth (then 15) that in his view, the three accused are responsible for the deaths of three of his sisters, together with that of his father's first wife.
That's not possible, the youth replies calmly, not seeming to display the kind of shock that might be expected to register after such a bombshell.
Yes, he agrees, there had been violence in the house, and several of the children were afraid of their father, who had hit them in the past. "He should never have laid a finger on any of them," he said. He also concurred that his parents' code of conduct was strict, and that he did not share many of the values attached to their Afghan heritage. And if anyone in the household was rebellious, it was him, he said.
But he simply could not fathom the idea of intra-familial murder. "For a mother, or a brother to do that would be sick, and that's what tells me this didn't happen...Is there any proof? Any footprints?"
In particular, the interrogator asked the witness about the version of events initially provided by the three defendants, namely that Zainab Shafia (who had no driver's licence) took one of the cars for an unauthorized late-night spin, as the family stopped overnight at a Kingston motel, taking the other three with her.
The witness agreed he had no explanation as to why Rona Amir Mohammad, who had been a kind of surrogate mother to the seven children, would have gone along with such a plan. [Maybe the bumps on her head and the heads of the others would be part of the explanation.]
The witness and two other siblings were removed from the family home in the Montreal borough of St. Leonard the day before the arrests.
The son is asked whether there is trouble at home - he admits yes, and acknowledges arguments, describing one occasion where he was slapped repeatedly by his brother Hamed and his father.
When the police officer asks how that would have been dealt with in Afghanistan, the boy responds 'don't ask me, I've never been there.'
Now nearing the end of its second month, the trial will break for Christmas at the end of this week. It is unclear whether the defence will have wrapped up its case by then. Either way, the proceedings will resume in January.
December 13, 2011
The younger brother(now 18) of the murdered girls was cross-examined today and he was not impressive.
Crown prosecutor Gerard Laarhuis asked about a time when he had called police to the home because he feared his father's reaction when sister Zainab had run away from home. He now says he was lying to them and trying to manipulate them. When asked by Laarhuis: "So where do you draw the line on manipulating people and telling lies?" he replied: "When it goes too far, I guess."
But he said he ".. was absolutely truthful," when he talked to police about his sisters' deaths.
"I don't think anyone else is responsible for what happened to my sisters," the boy testified. "It was an accident." He said he knew his parents would not do it and he could not "think of anyone else who would."
One thing has become clear, the remaining family got together to make sure their stories to police were the same.
Laarhuis continued, "It's clear that you and Hamed had information you didn't want the police to know?" The boy disagreed: "Whatever I said, which is the truth, I want them (Hamed and their parents) to say too, even in details." "Well," said Laarhuis, "that's the remarkable thing about the truth, isn't it? You don't need to rehearse it."
December 14, 2011
The younger brother who was called as a defence witness was cross-examined all day today.
Crown attorney Gerard Laarhuis accused him of having a highly selective memory, and recited a long list of "new information" offered during his testimony.
The prosecutor said the witness conveniently remembered details that aided his accused family members, but failed to recall anything that might hinder their defence.
Laarhuis quoted the witness as saying his father was an 8.5 out of 10 on liberal values, and did not care what his children wore or insist that his daughters wear the hijab. But the prosecutor showed the court the girls' passport photos, health cards and Canadian residency cards, in which they were all pictured wearing the hijab. The witness maintained he had never seen them wearing the hijab.
He also denied that one of his roles in the family was to report back to his parents and Hamed on the behaviour of Sahar and Geeti at school.
But many of his answers during his cross-examination were unclear, which sometimes elicited chuckles from members of the public watching the trial.
He also denied several incidents involving his family that the court has heard other witnesses testify to, including his own father.
Defence lawyer Peter Kemp called the son back to the witness box to question him about his cross-examination testimony. "You've been cross-examined quite extensively by Mr. Laarhuis with respect to a conspiracy or an agreement to fabricate evidence or make up evidence ... to help your parents and your brother," Kemp said. "What do you have to say about that?"
"That we helped in the murders, is that right?" the son said.
Moments later, after the judge told him he could step down, the son turned to Judge Robert Maranger and asked if he could have permission to hug his parents goodbye. Laarhuis referenced ongoing discussions about the matter, and said, "Now's not the time," causing the mother to burst into tears in the prisoner's box.
The court adjourned for the holidays just after 3 p.m. on Wednesday, with the trial scheduled to resume Jan. 9, 2012.
If they want to get free or reduced sentences, they need a better defense strategy - this one is not working.