The Montreal man accused of murdering four family members in an honour killing told jurors that his honour was important but killing his family would not restore it. “My honour is important for me but … to kill someone, you can’t regain your reputation and honour,” Mohammad Shafia (inset) testified Friday, near the end of four hours of often accusatory questioning by prosecutor Laurie Lacelle. “Respected lady, you should know that in our culture and our religion, if someone kills his wife or daughter, there is no honourless person more than that person who committed that act.”
Shafia, 58, is charged, along with his wife Tooba Mohammad Yahya, 41, and their son Hamed, 20, with four counts of first-degree murder. They have pleaded not guilty to killing Shafia sisters Zainab, 19, Sahar, 17, and Geeti, 13 and Rona Amir Mohammad, 52, who was Shafia’s first wife. He married her in Afghanistan.
The four were found dead June 30, 2009, in a Nissan Sentra discovered submerged in a shallow canal in Kingston. The victims had drowned. Three of them had bruises on their heads that remain unexplained.
Prosecutors allege that Shafia was angry that his daughters defied him, took boyfriends and dressed in revealing clothes. Mohammad had asked for a divorce, the trial heard, though Shafia denied the claim. Shafia acknowledged, during questioning by Lacelle, that he had called his daughters Zainab and Sahar “whores” and “prostitutes” after he saw photos of them posing in bikinis or underwear or hugging boyfriends. He said he did not see the photos until after their deaths.
Shafia’s testimony was spread over two days and near the end of the cross-examination by Lacelle, she read back to him his words captured by a police bug, in which he said, “there’s no value of life without honour.”
“And that’s how you felt, wasn’t it?” Lacelle asked.
Shafia said yes, but insisted he never thought of killing his children.
“Yes, I’m Muslim, I don’t deny that but I’m not a killer … I came here in order to train and educate my children, to take them to school, what happened, God knows,” he said, beginning to cry.
Lacelle noted that after his arrest, while sitting in a police vehicle, he told Hamed “we haven’t done anything wrong, they did it themselves.”
“You believed that their actions brought about their rightful deaths,” Lacelle said.
“Yes,” Shafia answered. Earlier in his testimony, he said he believed that everyone’s death is pre-determined and is in the hands of God.
Shafia testified that his 10-member family, traveling in two cars, stopped in Kingston in the early morning of June 30, while driving home from a vacation in Niagara Falls. They rented two rooms in a motel and then his daughter Zainab asked for the keys to the Sentra. Shafia said when he awoke the next morning, the car and the four family members were missing.
Cellphone records show that a call was made at 7:01 a.m. to Sahar’s cellphone. Shafia said he called, in an effort to locate the missing group. When he got no answer, he called his son Hamed, who had driven home to Montreal in the other family vehicle. He also didn’t know where they were.
Shafia said “my worry was increasing” as time passed.
Lacelle noted Shafia didn’t call Sahar’s phone again and the family did not go to police to report the group missing until 12:30.
“Sir, you say you were worried about your missing family members but between 7 o’clock in the morning and 12:30 p.m. you made exactly one phone call to Sahar’s cellphone,” Lacelle said.
“I think I called once or twice,” Shafia said.
“You didn’t keep calling to see if she would answer,” Lacelle noted.
Shafia said he told his son Hamed to come back to Kingston. He testified that he wasn’t able to call police or ask motel staff if they had seen the missing family members because he doesn’t speak English fluently and was waiting for Hamed, who speaks English, to return to Kingston.
Lacelle noted that Shafia didn’t wake his English-speaking children who were with him.
“No,” Shafia said, without offering an explanation.
Lacelle spent more than 10 minutes quizzing Shafia about his revelation that during the family’s vacation in Niagara Falls, he drove back toward Montreal alone on June 27, 2009, and took a call on Hamed’s cellphone, which was in the vehicle. It was Sahar, he said, calling to say the entire family wanted to go home. Shafia said he happened to take the call in the Kingston area. He immediately turned around and drove back to Niagara Falls.
Lacelle said that during Shafia’s interrogation after his arrest, when confronted with cellphone records that revealed Hamed’s phone was in the Kingston area on June 27, Shafia told a police officer that he and Hamed had made the more than six-hour trip from Niagara Falls to Montreal some time between June 24 and June 29.
Shafia testified Friday that he and Hamed “might have” have driven to Montreal between those dates, in addition to the June 27 trip he made alone.
“That’s something that you never told us either yesterday or in your previous interviews,” Lacelle noted.
“I haven’t been asked,” Shafia said.
Several jurors smirked or smiled and snickers could be heard among spectators in the courtroom.
Shafia asked Lacelle, at one point, how a person could kill his children.
“You might do it if you thought they were whores,” Lacelle shot back.
“No, again respected lady, that’s only Zainab when she did that and Sahar which I didn’t know at that time and two others, they were innocent and one was just a child,” Shafia replied calmly. “Nothing can cause a person … to do such a terrible and heinous thing, it’s impossible.”
(this appeared first at the Montreal Gazette)