Mohammad Shafia called his children liars and he denied he had anything to do with the deaths of four members of his family in a police interrogation conducted the day after he was arrested. A videotape of the two-hour interrogation was played Wednesday at the trial of the Montreal man, his wife Tooba Mohammad Yahya, 41, and their son Hamed, 20, who are each charged with four counts of first-degree murder. They have pleaded not guilty.
Shafia sisters Zainab, 19, Sahar, 17 and Geeti, 13, and Rona Amir Mohammad, 52, were found dead in a Nissan Sentra submerged in a canal in Kingston on June 30, 2009. Rona was Shafia’s first wife, whom he married in Afghanistan, jurors have been told.
In the interrogation, RCMP Insp. Shahin Mehdizadeh spends little time trying to build rapport.
“Have you killed them yourself?” he asks, before the interview is 10 minutes old.
“No,” Shafia replies.
“Have you helped in killing them?” the inspector asks.
“No,” Shafia says, insisting that he considered his children “pure and sinless kids.”
“I loved them with my heart,” he says in Dari. His interviewer, a native of Iran, speaks Farsi, a variant of Shafia’s language. English subtitles appeared on video monitors in the courtroom and jurors were given a 114-page transcript.
Mehdizadeh immediately calls Shafia a liar and implores him to offer a reason why the officer should believe him. Shafia invites the officer to give a reason.
“I have come to this country for its laws,” Shafia says, when Mehdizadeh says Canada is a country that has respect for all life.
Mehdizadeh tells Shafia that the victims did not die in an accident, as the family said publicly after the deaths.
“Someone has pushed them,” the officer says.
“This killer should be found,” Shafia responds.
A few minutes later, Shafia says his children “told a lot of lies,” including the false claim that he beat them.
“Then all of your children are liars?” Mehdizadeh asks.
“They are lying,” Shafia replies.
Later, Shafia acknowledges once slapping one child.
“Slowly I have hit like this in the face,” he tells the officer, as he taps the right side of his face with his right palm. “That you should not come home late at night because here is very dangerous.”
The interrogation was done on the morning of July 23, the day after Shafia, his wife and son were arrested in Montreal. Yahya was subjected to a grueling, six-hour interrogation the night before, in which she said the trio was at the canal when the Sentra went into the water, though she claimed she did not see what happened.
Prosecutors allege that the family’s Lexus SUV was used to push the smaller car over a stone ledge into the water. Bits of auto headlight plastic found at the site matched the Lexus.
“You were there that night,” Mehdizadeh says, after explaining some of the evidence to Shafia.
“I wasn’t,” Shafia responds.
“Your wife said you had been there.”
“No,” Shafia repeats.
“Your car was there that night,” Mehdizadeh says.
“Our car was at the hotel,” Shafia says.
The inspector puts the police theory to him about the motive for the killings, suggesting that as a good Muslim man he may have been upset with something his children did, including his daughter Zainab, who wanted to marry a young Pakistani man.
Shafia denies he had any concern about the behaviour of his children.
“We don’t have any issues,” he tells the officer.
Prosecutors claim Shafia believed his honour had been tarnished because his daughters consorted with boys, wore revealing clothes and disobeyed him.
“Where is your honour?” Mehdizadeh asks.
“My honour is my honour,” Shafia answers.
“You don’t have honour.”
“No, don’t say this word,” Shafia says.
Defence lawyers had a chance Wednesday morning to question a man who said Shafia tried to recruit him, during a phone call, to help murder Zainab. Fazil Javid said he can’t produce any phone records to back his claim and he doesn’t know exactly when the call happened.
“It doesn’t mean that I didn’t talk to Mr. Shafia,” Javid testified, during questioning by defence lawyer David Crowe, who represents Yahya. Javid lives in Sweden and is a brother of Yahya. He could not be named, under a temporary court order that protected his identity until he completed his testimony.
Javid testified Tuesday that he spoke to Shafia on the telephone in late May or early June 2009, while Shafia was in Dubai on business. He had hoped to intervene in a family problem with Zainab, who had run away from home and wanted to marry a young Pakistani man, against everyone’s advice.
Javid said Shafia asked Javid to invite Zainab, her mother and another sibling to Sweden where they could go to a body of water and have a barbecue and then throw Zainab in the water and drown her.
Crowe asked Javid why he said, during testimony at a preliminary inquiry, that the phone call was in early May.
“I might have been mixed up,” Javid answered.
Javid said he was at work in his pizza shop in the Swedish city of Oxelosund when he had the phone conversation with Shafia. He said he used a phone card to make the call and his phone service provider said it was unable to provide any record of the call.
(This appeared first at the Montreal Gazette)