The teenage boy whose parents and brother are charged with murder acknowledged that he lied to Montreal police and teachers about abuse in his family, but insisted that he told investigators the truth about the deaths of four family members including sister Zainab (inset). Crown prosecutor Gerard Laarhuis grilled the boy, who is now 18, for five hours Tuesday after he was called Monday as a defence witness. A court order bars publication of his name.
“I wasn’t telling the truth to these police officers,” the boy testified, when asked about an incident in the Shafia home in April 2009. The boy and two siblings had called police and complained that they feared their father’s reaction to news that their sister Zainab had run away from home. The children also told officers that their father and older brother Hamed hit them a week earlier.
Mohammad Shafia, 58, his wife, Tooba Mohammad Yahya, 42, and their son Hamed, 20, are each charged with four counts of first-degree murder. They have pleaded not guilty to killing Zainab, 19, Sahar, 17, and Geeti Shafia, 13, along with Rona Amir Mohammad, 52, who was Shafia’s first wife, whom he married in his native Afghanistan.
Shafia passed her off as his cousin when the family moved to Canada in 2007.
The victims were found dead inside a submerged Nissan Sentra discovered June 30, 2009, in a canal in Kingston. Prosecutors allege the deaths were disguised as an accident but were an honour killing, masterminded by Shafia because he felt his daughters had shamed him by taking boyfriends, dressing in revealing clothes and disobeying him. Rona Mohammad reportedly wanted a divorce.
The accused maintain that Zainab took the car on a joyride without permission and crashed it into the canal.
In a puzzling exchange, the boy suggested he was telling the truth and he wasn’t telling the truth when officers came to the family’s St. Leonard home on April 17, 2009.
“You were trying to tell the truth to the police then too, right?” Laarhuis asked.
“Ah yeah,” he replied.
“OK, so when you told them that you were afraid, that you thought that your dad was dangerous, that was the truth?” Laarhuis asked.
“That was something to make the police take us seriously, I wouldn’t necessarily say that’s true,” he replied.
You were trying to be truthful with the police? Laarhuis asked again.
“No, all I was trying to do was to get the police to take me out [of] the house,” he answered.
“So you were manipulating the police too?” Laarhuis asked.
“At the time, yes.”
“So you manipulated the police by telling them lies; you manipulated teachers by telling them lies?” Laarhuis asked.
The witness said he didn’t lie to child protection workers.
“So where do you draw the line on manipulating people and telling lies?” Laarhuis wondered.
“When it goes too far, I guess,” the boy stammered.
He testified previously that his sister Sahar fabricated stories of abuse at home so that she’d get sympathy and special treatment at school. The boy said he knew about her fabrications and he played along.
But the boy said that when police asked him what he knew about the June 30 deaths, he was honest.
“I was absolutely truthful,” he testified.
The boy offered an explanation for the police discovery that an Internet search was done on a Shafia computer on June 20, 2009 for: “Where to commit a murder.”
The teen said he was depressed and suicidal at the time, and didn’t understand the word “suicidal” though he had attended an English school in Dubai until age 13.
“I would be making searches like that at the time,” he testified, adding that he couldn’t be certain it was his search. He said the depression took hold around the time his sister Zainab ran away from home, April 17, 2009.
Later, when Laarhuis returned to the issue, the boy acknowledged that life at home was good and he was happy in the days just before the family went on vacation to Niagara Falls, on June 23.
Laarhuis asked again about the “murder” search on the computer and the boy repeated that he might have done it.
“It was during your happy period, the 20th,” Laarhuis noted. “Do you want to change your testimony about that now?”
“No, not at all,” the witness answered.
The boy testified that he was certain, soon after the deaths, that it was an accident, although he knew nothing of the police investigation.
Laarhuis noted that in a telephone conversation with Hamed early on the morning of July 22, after police had searched the Shafia house, the boy did not suggest that anyone else could be responsible for the deaths. The family had been shown a warrant that indicated police suspected them of murder. The phone call was secretly recorded by police.
“I don’t think anyone else is responsible for what happened to my sisters,” the boy testified. “It was an accident.”
He said he knew his parents would not do it and he could not “think of anyone else who would.”
Laarhuis will continue questioning the boy Wednesday morning.
(this appeared first at the Montreal Gazette)