Shafia son seeks judge’s OK to hug accused killer parents

Tooba Mohammad YahyaWhen it was over, hours of questioning spread over three days about the deaths of his sisters and the allegation that his parents are killers, the boy-witness just wanted a hug. The 18 year old, who had been on the witness stand at the Shafia murder trial since Monday, looked up toward the judge and made a plaintive request. “Could I have the permission to hug my parents goodbye?” the boy asked, in a soft voice.

Judge Robert Maranger appeared puzzled and leaned toward him, asking him to repeat what he had said.

“Could I have permission to see my parents, say goodbye?” the boy asked.

“Your honour, we’ve had discussion about this and we’re addressing it,” Crown prosecutor Gerard Laarhuis interjected. “It will be addressed, now’s not the time.”

“You’ll have to wait on that,” Maranger told the witness, in response to his unusual request to hug defendants sitting in the prisoner’s box in the midst of a murder trial.

The boy walked out of the courtroom, pausing briefly near the glass-enclosed box to wave to his mother, father and older brother. His mother and father began to cry.

Montreal businessman and Afghan immigrant 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. He married her in Afghanistan before the family moved to Canada in 2007.

The victims were found dead June 30, 2009, inside a submerged Nissan Sentra that was at the bottom of a shallow canal in Kingston. Prosecutors allege the victims died in an honour killing. The accused maintain that Zainab took the car without permission and crashed it into the canal.

The teenage witness, one of seven Shafia children, was called to testify by defence lawyer Peter Kemp, who represents Shafia. A court order bars publication of the boy’s name. He testified that he is certain the victims died in an accident.

Laarhuis grilled him for six hours about his testimony that the Shafia household was happy and his parents were loving and liberal, a contradiction to accounts from many previous witnesses who recounted complaints from several Shafia children to teachers, social workers and police of abuse at home.

“A significant number of kids in your family have talked about killing themselves while in Canada,” Laarhuis said, in an exchange Wednesday.

The boy said only he was truly suicidal. He said his sister Sahar had pretended that she wanted to kill herself, one of many ruses to get sympathy and special treatment at school and he said his sister Zainab was merely depressed.

Laarhuis reminded the boy about evidence gathered by police, after the deaths, that another sister had asked him to get poison so they could kill themselves together.

“Yes, I remember something like that,” the boy replied.

The witness insisted that Zainab came into his Kingston motel room, a room he shared with his parents, around 2 a.m. on June 30, 2009, soon after the family stopped there on their way home from Niagara Falls. Prosecutors allege that the victims were never at the motel but that they were taken directly to the nearby canal where the Nissan Sentra was pushed into the water with another family vehicle.

The boy could not explain how his sister got the keys to take the Nissan for a joyride, as his family has suggested.

“I never heard Zainab asking for the keys,” he testified.

When Kemp had a chance to re-examine his witness, he asked him directly to respond to the allegation, clear from the prosecutor’s accusatory questions, that the boy was part of a conspiracy among family members to fabricate evidence and cover up for the accused.

“We helped in the murders, is that right?” the boy asked, seeking clarification of the question.

“Or cover up,” Kemp added.

“Well, what I can say is, that that doesn’t sound right and as court heard, when my dad had slapped my sisters, I stepped in and if I stepped in when my dad only hit my sisters, how could I cover up for him if he did something like that?” he replied. “I would absolutely not do anything like that.”

Kemp called two more witnesses.

Homayon Jawad, an older brother of Yahya who lives in Germany but is a native of Afghanistan, said he knew Shafia as an honest businessman in Kabul.

Abdul Rahim Amanzay, 52, said he has known Shafia for 35 years. Both were businessmen in Kabul. Amanzay said he moved to Canada in 2001 and struck up a business arrangement with Shafia four years later, while Shafia was living in Dubai.

Amanzay said he bought cars at auction and shipped them to Dubai, where Shafia sold them.

“He’s an honest man,” Amanzay testified.

In response to questions by Crown prosecutor Laurie Lacelle, Amanzay said that after the deaths of the four Shafia family members he spoke to people in the business community in Afghanistan who knew Shafia and he discovered that people still thought highly of Shafia.

“They said he was a very disciplined man and good man,” Amanzay told jurors.

After Amanzay’s testimony, Kemp said he had completed his case.

Jurors were sent home until Jan. 9. They have heard 48 prosecution witnesses and four defence witnesses since the trial began Oct. 20. It is expected to conclude in late January.

(this appeared first at the Montreal Gazette)

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