The young Montreal, Quebec, man accused, along with his mother and father, of killing four family members did not jump in the water or call 9-1-1 as he watched them drown in a sinking car early on the morning of June 30, 2009, according to a remarkable account he gave in jail four months after his arrest. Hamed Shafia (inset), just 18 at the time of the deaths, honked his car horn twice in a desperate bid to summon help; tossed a rope into the dark, shallow canal; called out the names of his sisters and stepmother and then drove home to Montreal, he told a man who was secretly investigating the deaths.
“I thought they are coming out, but they didn’t,” Hamed says on an audio recording made Nov. 7, 2009 at the detention centre where he was jailed. “When they didn’t come out, I came back to the car.”
Hamed and his parents, Mohammad Shafia, 58, and Tooba Mohammad Yahya, 41, are each charged with four counts of first-degree murder. They have pleaded not guilty.
On the recording, played at the trial, Hamed explains that he was afraid his parents, who were sleeping in a nearby motel, would be upset with him, so he drove home without telling them what had happened. He made no efforts to alert authorities.
“I thought that if I call the police, they would blame me that [my sister] didn’t have licence and [I] brought her here,” Hamed says in Dari, his native language.
Zainab, 19, Sahar, 17 and Geeti Shafia, 13, and Rona Amir Mohammad, 52, were found dead in a Nissan Sentra that was discovered underwater 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.
Jurors were given an English transcript of the conversation before they listened to the three-hour interview.
The recording was made by Moosa Hadi, a native of Afghanistan and at the time an engineering student at Queen’s University in Kingston. He was hired by defence lawyers Peter Kemp and David Crowe, who represent Shafia and Yahya, to do translations. The lawyers did not know that Hadi agreed, after meeting privately with Shafia at the detention centre, to conduct his own, separate investigation, largely because Hadi believe the family was innocent.
“For me, it was not justified to lay such a charge,” Hadi testified. Shafia paid him $4,500, to cover his “expenses” during the three-month investigation. Hadi wrote a report after he conducted the interview in jail with Hamed and turned over the report and the recording to Kingston Police.
Hamed offered Hadi a version of events strikingly at odds with everything he had previously told police during hours of interviews. In those previous statements, Hamed insisted he was not at the canal that morning, he had no idea how the four family members ended up dead and he claimed that his family’s Lexus SUV was damaged when he collided with a guardrail in a parking lot in Montreal.
A collision reconstruction expert told jurors that the Lexus was damaged when it was used to push the Sentra that contained the four victims over a stone ledge into the canal. The Shafias have said they stopped in Kingston and stayed at a motel during a long drive home to Montreal from a vacation in Niagara Falls.
Hamed told Hadi that he faked the crash with the guardrail in Montreal.
“I took the Lexus and hit to a post a bit,” Hamed says, on the recording. Hamed told Hadi that after the family stopped at the motel, his sister Zainab, who did not have a licence, said she wanted to go for a drive.
“My sister said that she wants to drive the car and just go for a spin and then come back soon,” Hamed says, on the recording. He said his first instinct was to tell his parents that the girls were going to take the car without permission, but he hesitated when he saw that his mother and father had gone to sleep. Instead, he decided to follow the girls, to make sure they returned safely.
The girls drove north from the motel and turned down Kingston Mills Road, which eventually crosses the canal. Hamed said he was following closely in the Lexus. Near the canal, the Sentra stopped suddenly.
“I hit the back [of the other car] but not hard, just the glass was broken, the glass of Lexus car,” Hamed says, on the recording.
He got out to collect the broken pieces and while he did that, the Sentra turned off the road onto the grassy property next to the canal. Hamed said he thought they were going to steer around a rocky outcrop and back onto the road.
“I had [the pieces] in my hand when I heard the splash,” he tells Hadi on the recording. He went to the edge of the water.
“At that moment, I think one of the lights was showing,” he says on the recording. “There was a bit of light showing that I understood it had fallen [in] here.” He returned to the Lexus and sounded the horn several times, hoping it would attract help.
He returned to the water’s edge with a yellow rope.
“I put it in to the water, nothing happened,” he tells Hadi. He called out, but got no response. In total, he estimated he spent seven or eight minutes at the canal, before he returned to the Lexus and decided to drive home to Montreal.
He wanted to call his parents or police, but feared he’d get in trouble.
“I was scared and changed my mind,” he says on the recording. “I decided with myself not to say that I was with them.”
Hamed told Hadi that he never told his parents what really happened that morning.
(This appeared first at the Montreal Gazette)