The young Montreal man accused of killing three of his sisters and his stepmother, in a conspiracy with his mother and father, insisted, during a four-hour police interrogation, that he was never at the canal where the victims were found dead in a submerged car. Hamed Shafia, now 20, held to the denial, even when confronted with the fact that his mother had told police, in a separate interrogation, that the three were present when the family’s Nissan Sentra plunged into the water.
“It’s impossible, you’re making it up,” Hamed said, when Sgt. Michael Boyles, the Kingston Police officer questioning him, told him what his mother had said. A videotape of the interrogation by Boyles, and another officer, was played for jurors Tuesday at the murder trial.
The young man, his father Mohammad Shafia, 58, and his mother, Tooba Mohammad Yahya, 41, are each charged with four counts of first-degree murder. They have pleaded not guilty.
Zainab, 19, Sahar, 17 and Geeti Shafia, 13, and Rona Amir Mohammad, 52, were found dead in the Sentra that was discovered in the Rideau Canal in Kingston early on the morning of June 30, 2009. Rona was Shafia’s first wife, whom he married in Afghanistan. The three were arrested three weeks later.
Hamed told the officer he didn’t believe his mother would say all three were at the scene.
“Well, if she was there, I don’t know, but I wasn’t,” he said.
“She said you were there,” Boyles responded.
“Uh, that’s impossible,” Hamed said.
Prosecutors allege that the three family members were involved in taking their two vehicles to the canal at around 1:30 in the morning on June 30 and using their SUV to push the smaller car, containing the four victims, over a stone ledge into the water.
Boyles brought a laptop computer into the interview room and played a portion of the videotaped interrogation of Hamed’s mother.
After Hamed watched his mother’s incriminating statement, Boyles told him that his mother told them what happened “because it’s the right thing to do.”
Hamed appeared surprised by what he had seen.
“So is your mother lying?” Boyles asked.
“I don’t know … speak to the lawyer,” Hamed mumbled.
Earlier, another officer, Det. Steve Koopman appeared to come close to wresting admissions from the young man.
“Did your dad always have this [murder] plan in effect in regards to the Kingston Mills area?” Koopman asked.
“No,” Hamed replied.
“OK. When did it get brought up to you?”
“No, he didn’t, he didn’t bring it up to me,” Hamed said.
When Koopman asked how the two family cars ended up at the canal, Hamed changed the subject.
“Is my mom in one of the cells?” he asked the officer.
In another segment, Koopman gently suggests that Hamed is less culpable than his father.
“Did you mean to get involved in this?” Koopman asked.
“No,” Hamed responded.
“When did it start for you?”
Hamed refused to answer the officer’s next few questions and he seemed intent on absolving his mother of blame.
“My mom, she doesn’t … have anything to do with it,” he said.
When the officer asked how his mother was doing, Hamed said “she did talk about suicide.”
During the interrogation, officers also revealed to Hamed that cellphone records showed that his phone was in the Kingston area three days before the victims were found, at a time when he had already said he was in Niagara Falls with his family on a vacation.
“I don’t know; I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Hamed replied, when asked why his phone was using a cell tower in the Kingston area.
The young man is withdrawn and uncommunicative through large stretches of the interrogation, but at other times he engages with the police officers and quizzes them about what evidence they have collected to implicate the family.
Koopman tried to show empathy, telling Hamed he knew it was a scary experience.
“But I think you’re doing a dishonour to yourself and you’re doing a dishonour to your family when you’re gonna lie about what your responsibility is,” the officer said.
“How much I knew, I told you and if you want me to start lying, then that’s a different story, you know, anyway, I have nothing left in my life you know,” Hamed responds. “It’s like, God forbid for any family but uh, four members suddenly just disappear, like gone.”
Prosecutors allege the victims died in an honour killing, an ancient cultural practice that is still prevalent in some South Asian and Middle Eastern cultures in which girls and women can be murdered if they are perceived to have shamed a family through immoral behaviour or misconduct.
The Shafia family, originally from Afghanistan, came to Canada in 2007 from Dubai and settled in St. Leonard.
The trial resumes Friday.
(this appeared first at the Montreal Gazette)