Victim overheard murder plot by accused father, trial told

RonaRona Amir Mohammad (inset) overheard Mohammad Shafia plotting to kill her and his 19-year-old daughter Zainab, according to a sister of Rona who testified Monday at the murder trial of the Montreal man, his wife and son. Diba Masoomi travelled thousands of kilometres to appear at the trial and could not be identified on the first day she testified because of a court order that protected her identity until she completed her testimony. Masoomi completed her testimony on Tuesday.

Masoomi, who is a younger sister of Rona and who lives in France, said that Rona told her, in a telephone conversation before her death, that she overheard Shafia talking to his son and wife in the hallway of the family’s St. Leonard home one evening after Zainab had run away from home to a women’s shelter in April 2009.

“Shafia was talking to Hamed and Tooba, that I will go to Afghanistan, I will prepare the passport, I will sell my property and then I will come and kill Zainab,” Masoomi testified. She said Rona told her that Shafia was upset and angry.

“He told that to Tooba, ‘If the girl doesn’t return, I will kill her because she dishonoured me,’ ” Masoomi told jurors.

She said one of the other two people asked: “What about the other one?” and Shafia replied, according to her account of the conversation with Rona, “I will kill the other one too.”

Masoomi said Rona believed she was the other intended victim.

“I told her, ‘Don’t be afraid, this is not Afghanistan, this is not Dubai, this is Canada and don’t be afraid … I told her nothing will happen,” Masoomi testified.

Rona, along with Shafia sisters, Zainab, Sahar, 17, and Geeti, 13, were found dead in a submerged car in a canal in Kingston on June 30, 2009.

Three weeks later Shafia, 58, his wife Tooba Mohammad Yahya, 41, and their son Hamed, 20, were arrested and each charged with four counts of first-degree murder. They have pleaded not guilty. Rona was Shafia’s first wife, whom he married in his native Afghanistan, before the family moved to Canada in 2007.

Prosecutors allege the victims were slain in an honour killing, planned by Shafia because he believed his daughters had shamed him and Rona was a source of friction with his second wife.

Masoomi testified that she had regular phone calls with Rona, in which Rona complained of abuse by Shafia.

“He used to hit her and he’d hit her in front of the children,” Masoomi said.

She could not provide any specifics of the alleged abuse, when she was questioned by defence lawyer Peter Kemp, who represents Shafia.

“I don’t know what type of beaten up,” she testified. The woman said Rona was agreeable to Shafia taking a second wife, because Rona was unable to have children, but the relationship deteriorated after they moved to Canada.

Dr. Christopher Milroy
Dr. Christopher Milroy at the Kingston courthouse (photo by Rob Tripp)

Jurors also heard Monday that the victims could have been drowned elsewhere and then stuffed into the car before it plunged into the canal.

“From a pathology perspective I cannot include or exclude that … it is possible,” forensic pathologist Dr. Christopher Milroy testified.

Milroy conducted autopsies on the victims and concluded all drowned, though he could not pinpoint when or where they drowned. Thorough toxicology tests did not find any evidence that the victims were incapacitated or sedated with any drugs or toxins.

Shafia clutched a tissue to his face and appeared to sob as graphic photos from the autopsies were flashed onto large monitors in the courtroom. Hamed, sitting beside him in the prisoner’s box, also held a tissue to his face but did not appear to be crying. Yahya was permitted to remain out of the courtroom for all of Milroy’s testimony.

Jurors were shown photos of three of the victims, Rona, Zainab and Geeti, with the skin on their heads peeled back to reveal bruises on their crowns or foreheads.

“It clearly requires explanation and what is somewhat unusual is that they have three areas of impact to the head and there is a relative absence of injury elsewhere on the body,” Milroy testified. No conclusive explanation for the bruises was offered. Rona had the most significant bruises.

“It’s a fairly substantial area of bruising,” Milroy testified. Only Sahar did not have the mysterious bruises on her head or other fresh injuries. None of the victims had skull fractures.

The three victims with head injuries also had minor bruises, discovered during internal examinations, in the muscles around the neck, shoulders and chest. These were likely caused during the dying process, Milroy testified.

During questioning by defence lawyers, Milroy acknowledged that the injuries on the heads of three victims could have been suffered if they were conscious when the car went into the canal and they panicked and banged their heads into hard objects or surfaces, but he wondered why the victims would all have injuries in the same spot.

Milroy said there are famous cases of homicidal drowning in which the victims were essentially uninjured.

(this story has been edited from its original form, as it appeared online at the Montreal Gazette, to reflect the lifting of the publication ban on Masoomi’s name)

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