Crucial stage in canal mass murder case coming to end

A Montreal mother, father and son accused of mass murder will today (Friday, Oct. 22) complete the final step in a 15-month legal process leading to what is expected to be a sensational three-month trial. Pre-trial motion hearings will conclude roughly one week earlier than expected. They began Oct. 5. The hearings allowed lawyers to seek orders from a judge about the admissibility of some evidence and to argue about the relevance of allowing some witnesses to appear at the trial.

Accused killer mom Tooba Mohammad Yahya arrives at court October 21, 2010 in KIngston, Ontario

The evidence presented during the pre-trial motions and the submissions made by lawyers cannot be reported under broad publication bans that were imposed soon after the accused were charged.

On Thursday, University of Toronto professor Shahrzad Mojab was the 18th and final witness to appear during the pre-trial proceedings.

Mohammad Shafia, 57, his wife Tooba Mohammad Yahya, 40, and their son Hamed, 19, are each charged with four counts of first-degree murder. The parents and their oldest child are accused of killing three other children and Shafia’s first wife.

Sisters Zainab, 19, Sahar, 17, and Geeti, 13, were found dead June 30 in a car submerged in the Rideau Canal at Kingston Mills. Rona Amir Mohammad, 50, also was found dead in the car. She was Shafia’s first wife. The couple were married in Afghanistan. The 10-member Shafia family moved to Montreal roughly three years ago.

Family members of Rona Mohammad alleged the deaths were an honour killing.

Mojab testified in English, unlike many of the other witnesses who appeared over the past four weeks.

Three siblings of Rona Mohammad, from France and Sweden, appeared at the proceedings and testified in Farsi, a dialect of Persian. Another relative from Austria also appeared.

A number of witnesses from Montreal, including police officers, also appeared and testified in French.

The three accused sat nearly shoulder to shoulder in the prisoner’s box of the superior courtroom, listening to testimony Thursday. As they have done most days, they appear interested but showed no obvious emotion. Once they are brought into the courtroom, their handcuffs are removed. Shafia and his wife both wear headsets while English testimony is being given, so that they can listen to simultaneous translation provided by two interpreters in a sound-deadening booth installed in the courtroom.

The translation is transmitted wirelessly to receives in the courtroom, which are provided to all spectators, lawyers and staff.

Hamed Shafia speaks English fluently and does not wear a headset.

The complexity of simultaneous translation caused an issue only once Thursday, when the Farsi translators began waving from their booth to get the attention of Mr. Justice Robert Maranger to explain that they could not keep up with speed at which Crown prosecutor Gerard Laarhuis was speaking.

The trial is expected to begin April 18, after a jury selection process that could last seven days and could include the screening of more than 1,200 people in order to select 12 jurors.

To get enough local citizens for the candidate pool, questionnaires have been mailed out to build a jury roll, a list of people who could serve on a jury. Candidates for the questionnaire mailing are chosen randomly from a municipal enumeration list, leading to obvious conflicts. Defence lawyer Clyde Smith, who represents the accused son Hamed, received one, as did the Kingston Police officer who provides security at the superior courthouse. Both are automatically excluded from serving on juries because of their professions.

(I also received a questionnaire)

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