More than a year after three girls and a woman were found dead inside a car submerged in the Rideau Canal, a Kingston, Ontario, courtroom has been converted into a high-tech legal battleground. Lawyers will square off this week in Courtroom A of the superior courthouse as the murder case against three members of a Montreal family begins a key phase. Lawyers will begin arguing pre-trial motions.
Mohammad Shafia, 57, his wife Tooba Mohammad Yahya, 40, and their son Hamed, 19, face four counts each of first-degree murder. They are accused of killing three members of their family, teenage sisters, and Shafia’s first wife.
Tens of thousands of dollars have been spent on improvements to the courthouse because of cultural issues and the complexity of the case.
Instantaneous translation will be provided between three languages, Farsi, a dialect of Persian, French and English.
Two soundproof booths have been installed on a raised platform to the left of the judge. Each booth can accommodate two translators. It is expected that two Farsi and two French translators will be positioned in the booths, so that they can spell each other off at regular intervals.
The witness box has been extended and angled so that a person testifying can be seen more easily by the translators and the lawyers.
Four large, flat-screen TV monitors have been installed.
Large audio speakers are positioned on each side of the room and an audio visual control station was created where a technician manages a multi-channel audio control board.
Infra-red receiver units, which look like small solar panels, rise at least 10 feet high in each of the four corners. Spectators and participants inside the courtroom will be provided with headsets and wireless receiver units that provide the audio feed from the interpreters.
A closed-circuit camera has been installed that looks toward the judge, providing a connection to a room adjacent to the courtroom where child witnesses can provide testimony without facing the intimidation of the courtroom.
A walk-through, archway-style metal detector is in the foyer outside the courthouse.
The Ministry of the Attorney General refused to answer questions about the courthouse changes or costs.
On Tuesday, lawyers will put the equipment to the test as they begin presenting motions to Mr. Justice Robert Maranger, the Ottawa judge who also will preside over the trial. The pre-trial process was supposed to begin Monday but a problem in co-ordinating witnesses caused a last-minute delay.
The pre-trial phase is expected to last a month. The trial is scheduled to begin April 18, 2011 and run for three months.
Some of the lawyers and court staff conducted a test of the equipment Friday. Reporters were barred from the courtroom.
Though lawyers won’t reveal what motions they will argue, the defence typically seeks during this stage of a case to limit the evidence that prosecutors can present or to restrict the scope of inquiry.
The pre-trial stage also is the period when a change-of-venue application can be made and motions are presented to exclude information about the background of an accused person or to exclude statements he or she has made.
Three teenage Shafia sisters, Zainab, 19, Sahari, 17, and Geeti, 13, along with Rona Amir Mohammad, 50, were found dead in a car that was discovered early on the morning of June 30, 2009, submerged in about three metres of water near a lock in the Rideau Canal at Kingston Mills.
On July 22, the mother, father and son were arrested in Montreal and charged with murder.
They have been in custody since their arrest.
Crown prosecutors presented 22 witnesses during a 15-day preliminary hearing that including the filing of thick stacks of documents and DVD exhibits.
Evidence presented at the hearing cannot be published or broadacast because of sweeping publications bans that are in place.
The bans remain in force during the pre-trial stage.
(this story also appears today in The Kingston Whig-Standard)