Two teenaged sisters who were found dead in a submerged car in June 2009, told Montreal police officers 10 weeks earlier that they had been slapped and punched by their father and brother and faced death threats, a murder trial heard Tuesday. The claims, which elicited gasps in the courtroom, were presented through an agreed statement of facts that was read aloud by Crown prosecutor Laurie Lacelle, an unusual procedure in a murder trial that meant defence lawyers did not have an opportunity to question the person presenting the evidence.
Lacelle said that because of a personal situation, Const. Anne-Marie Choquette, a Montreal officer who responded to a 911 call on April 17, 2009, was not available to testify in court.
Mohammad Shafia, 58, his wife Tooba Mohammad Yahya, 41, and their son Hamed, 20, are each charged with four counts of first-degree murder. They have pleaded not guilty to killing three Shafia sisters and Shafia’s first wife.
Lacelle said all of the lawyers agreed that if Choquette had appeared, she would have testified that she and a partner were dispatched to the Shafia home in St. Leonard that Friday afternoon because four children had called to report that their lives were in danger. The officers found the four Shafia children on a street corner near their home and took them to the apartment where they lived on rue Bonnivet.
Geeti Shafia, who was 13, told the officers about an incident a week earlier when her father and brother were angry that she and her siblings came home late from a trip to a shopping centre.
“She told police that her father had pulled her hair and hit her on the face,” Lacelle said, reading the statement of facts aloud. “She told police that her brother Hamed hit her in the eye with his fist.
“Geeti also told police that her father often threatened that he was going to kill them.”
Choquette did not see any marks on Geeti but saw a mark near the right eye of one of her sisters.
“Sahar told police that she had been slapped by Hamed,” Lacelle said, reading the statement to the jurors. “She also told them that she had seen the violence to which her siblings had been subjected.”
The children explained that they called police on April 17 because they were walking home from school and got a phone call from their mother Tooba, who told them that their 19-year-old sister Zainab had run away from home.
“Their mother was reported to be afraid for their lives because the oldest daughter Zainab had left the house and they did not know where she was,” the statement says. “The children were concerned about the reaction of their father to this information.”
Earlier Tuesday, jurors heard that Zainab had fled to a women’s shelter that day with the help of her boyfriend Ammar Wahid, to escape her domineering father.
Sahar, who was 17, and Geeti, told police that they had seen their father shake Zainab by her hair because he did not like her boyfriend, according to the statement.
“Sahar and Geeti told police that they wanted to leave home because there is a lot of violence in the home,” according to the statement. “They said they were afraid of their father.”
Choquette would have testified that, as she was interviewing the children individually outside, their father arrived home and the demeanour of the siblings changed. The children stopped talking, some were crying and at least one of them said that what she had said earlier was not true. Choquette called child and family services.
When a child and family services worker arrived at the house that evening at 9 p.m., he spoke to all of the children, the father and mother and Hamed together in the living room. The worker suggested that the investigation should continue the following week. The children were left in the house. The children did not make any negative comments about their mother.
The following Monday, Det. Laurie-Ann Lefebvre and a child and family service worker interviewed three of the children at the school they attended. Lefebvre testified that Sahar recounted the incident when the children returned late from a trip to a shopping centre and then argued with Hamed.
“She received a slap because she responded to her brother during the argument,” Lefebvre testified, recounting what Sahar told her.
The officer said that when she met with Geeti, she was struck by the young girl’s nonchalant manner. When the officer explained the role of the child and family services worker, Geeti immediately said she wanted to be moved to a foster home.
“She said she had no freedom and she wanted to be like her friends, she wanted to be able to do things without asking permission,” the officer testified.
The next day, the officer spoke to Zainab, who told her that she had left home because her family was too strict. Zainab told the officer that she did not fear for the safety of her siblings, Lefebvre testified.
The officer concluded that she did not have enough information to file any criminal charges.
“The file was closed,” she said.
Zainab, Sahar, and Geeti, along with Rona Amir Mohammad, 52, were found dead inside a car that was discovered on June 30, 2009, at the bottom of a shallow canal in Kingston. Prosecutors allege it was an honour killing orchestrated by Mohammad Shafia who felt his daughters had shamed him and his family.
(this appeared first at the Montreal Gazette)