The Montreal man accused of killing three of his teenage daughters and his first wife believed two of his children had been “cruel” to him by dressing in revealing clothes and consorting secretly with boyfriends, he told jurors at his murder trial Thursday. “My children did a lot of cruelty toward me,” Mohammad Shafia (inset) testified during questioning by his lawyer, Peter Kemp.
Shafia said he was angry when he saw a photo of one of his daughters in a short skirt, hugging a boyfriend she had secretly dated. He saw it after her death, he insisted.
“I was upset, I swore because I didn’t expect this thing from my children,” Shafia testified. “I was not happy about that.”
Shafia said he expected that his children would have “consulted” him before making plans with boyfriends. He said he would have allowed the girls to marry boys of their choosing, even if he didn’t approve of them.
Shafia’s daughters, Zainab, 19, Sahar, 17, and Geeti, 13, along with Rona Amir Mohammad, 52, were found dead inside a car that was discovered at the bottom of a shallow canal in Kingston on June 30, 2009. The victims had drowned. Shafia and his second 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.
Mohammad was Shafia’s first wife. He married her in his native Afghanistan before the family moved to Canada in 2007. He passed her off as his cousin to bypass Canadian laws against polygamy.
Prosecutors allege that the victims died in an honour killing, planned by Shafia because he felt his reputation had been tarnished. Jurors have heard that the three teenagers were defying family rules. Zainab ran away from home to a shelter and insisted on marrying a young Pakistani man. Shafia’s first wife was asking for a divorce, an act that a cultural expert told the trial could provoke an honour killing. Geeti had asked child protection authorities to remove her from the home.
Just over half an hour into his daylong testimony, Shafia’s face flushed red and he began to weep, the first of several such moments. He recounted Zainab’s apology for running away and insisting on marrying someone Shafia said was “not a good boy.”
Shafia said he forgave her.
“I said, ‘Don’t worry,’ I gave her $100 and I kiss her face,” he said, wiping away tears. “I didn’t say anything else to her.”
Kemp led Shafia through accusations made against him by some of the nearly 50 prosecution witnesses who testified in the previous 25 days.
Shafia denied abusing his first wife, despite the claims of several of her siblings who testified. He said Mohammad had never asked for a divorce.
“Rona was happy with us,” Shafia testified.
Shafia denied abusing his children. He said he hit two of his children on one occasion, one evening in April 2009, when four of the children came home late.
“I slapped them once in my life,” he testified. “I slapped them in the face only once, … and I did not hit anyone else.” Shafia said he also swore at another one of the children that evening.
Shafia was asked by Kemp to explain a conversation with Yahya, secretly recorded by police, in which he talked of his dead children and had said, “May the devil shit on their graves.”
Shafia said he meant that the devil should “check” their graves and God would decide their fate.
In another conversation he was recorded saying that if they came back to life a 100 times, he would “do it again.” Shafia testified that he meant he would try to prevent them from doing bad things by giving them good advice.
Shafia dismissed the claim of Fazil Javid, Yahya’s brother, who testified that Shafia asked him, in a phone conversation, to help kill Zainab in Sweden.
Shafia said he got a call from Javid, but because of longstanding enmity between the two men, he hung up.
“I did not even speak to Fazil,” Shafia testified.
Shafia also denied speaking of killing Zainab in a conversation with Latif Hyderi, Yahya’s uncle.
Shafia did not waver from his account of life in the Shafia home under questioning by prosecutor Laurie Lacelle.
He insisted he loved his children and both wives and that he had told police the truth about everything, except his lie that Mohammad was his cousin. He said he had claimed she was a cousin for fear that their immigration application to Canada would be rejected.
He could not explain why he continued to claim she was his cousin, after her death.
Shafia was asked by Kemp if he had anything to do with the car ending up in the canal.
He repeated what he and Yahya said publicly days after the four deaths, that they had stopped in Kingston at a motel on the way home from a vacation in Niagara Falls and his oldest daughter Zainab took the car without permission. He awoke the next morning and discovered that the four family members were missing.
Shafia will be back on the witness stand Friday.
(this appeared first at the Montreal Gazette)