A Montreal woman accused of killing her three teenage daughters acknowledged, during an interrogation by police, 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].” The 41-year-old woman is on trial, along with her husband Mohammad Shafia, 58, and their son, Hamed, 20, for four counts of first-degree murder. The Afghan immigrants have pleaded not guilty.
They are accused of killing three Shafia sisters, Zainab, 19, Sahar, 17, and Geeti, 13, and Shafia’s first wife, Rona Amir Mohammad, 52. The victims were found in a submerged Nissan Sentra at the bottom of a shallow canal in Kingston on June 30, 2009.
The three were arrested in Montreal on July 22 and taken to the police station in Kingston.
The accused mother was interrogated by two police officers for six consecutive hours. A video recording of the interview was played at the murder trial Wednesday. Court adjourned after roughly five hours of the video had been screened.
Yahya acknowledged, after three hours of questioning, that her brother had told her, before the deaths, that her husband “wants to kill” Zainab. Jurors already have heard that Shafia was angry that Zainab left home for several weeks and hid in a women’s shelter. She also had planned to marry a young Pakistani man.
The entire interrogation was done in Farsi, a variant of Yahya’s native language, Dari. The video played in court was subtitled in English and jurors were given a 215-page transcript.
The first officer to question Yahya, Const. Azi Sadeghi, handed her a photo album containing snapshots of her children. The woman began to cry big wracking sobs as she leafed through the album. At one point, she clutched the album to her face. The officer asked her if she had killed the four victims.
“Man nakoshtam,” she said in her native language, which means, “I haven’t killed.”
“If you try to be honest and start, you know, talking to me, open your heart,” the officer responded.
“I don’t have anything in my heart except the grief of my children; I don’t have anything else,” Yahya said.
When the officer left the room for a few minutes, the accused mother continued to weep and muttered several times, “Oh my God.”
As her videotaped sobs filled the courtroom, her husband also began to cry in the prisoner’s box. Shafia held his hand to eyes and turned his head, as if he could not bear to watch the video, played on three large video monitors. Hamed Shafia showed no visible emotion. He stared down at a binder in his lap which contained the transcript.
Just over an hour into the interview, the second officer, Insp. Shahin Mehdizadeh, takes over. The veteran Mountie is a trained interrogator and major crime investigator from British Columbia.
He appeals to the woman’s maternal instincts, asking her to do the right thing for her dead children and he also suggests she should tell the truth, as a proper Muslim. For more than four hours, Yahya insists she can’t explain how the victims died.
“Man manifahmam,” she is heard saying repeatedly, translated to: “I don’t know.”
The inspector is relentless, often insisting that the woman is lying. He wrests an admission from her after roughly four and a half hours of questioning.
Yahya tells the officer that she, her son and husband were at the canal, around 1:30 in the morning on June 30, when the Nissan went into the water. She said her husband was driving the Sentra and she and her son Hamed were standing near the other vehicle, the family’s Lexus SUV.
“I heard a noise,” she said. “Hamed and I heard it. We both ran and we saw that a car was in the water. This car has fallen into the water.”
Yahya said she did not know how the car got into the water.
“I screamed and fell down,” she said, and became “unconscious.”
She awoke later, she claimed, at a nearby motel where the family had earlier rented rooms.
She told the officer that she believed the car was empty when it went into the water. She also explained that before the two cars got to the canal, she had switched places with her husband, so that he took over driving the Sentra.
“I request you one thing that never tell my husband … that I have said this,” Yahya told the inspector.
Prosecutors allege that the victims died in an honour killing staged to look like a car crash. Jurors have been told that Shafia believed his daughters had shamed him by consorting with boys and dressing in revealing Western clothes. They also have been told that Tooba had sought to cut Rona off from Shafia and spoke dismissively of her role in the family.
(This appeared first at the Montreal Gazette)