The Montreal woman accused – along with her husband and son – of killing three daughters and her husband’s first wife, told “all lies” when she was interrogated by police after her arrest, she testified at her murder trial. During Tooba Mohammad Yahya’s (inset) fourth day on the witness stand, she was grilled by a prosecutor about statements she made that she has since recanted.
Yahya said her interrogator, RCMP Insp. Shahin Mehdizadeh yelled at her, repeatedly called her a liar and accused her of conspiring with her husband, Mohammad Shafia, 58, and her son Hamed, 21, in the quadruple murder.
“What I told to Mr. Shahin, it was not … the truth,” Yahya testified Thursday. “I was under a lot of pressure. Whatever I told him, that was all lies.”
Yahya also testified she intended to tell the truth but began to make up stories to get the officer to leave her alone.
On June 30, 2009, a Nissan Sentra was found submerged at the bottom of a shallow canal in Kingston. Inside were the bodies of three of Yahya’s seven children, daughters Zainab, 19, Sahar, 17, and Geeti, 13. Rona Amir Mohammad, 52, also was found dead inside the car. The victims had drowned.
Three weeks later, the parents and their eldest son were arrested and charged with four counts of first-degree murder. They have pleaded not guilty. Mohammad was Shafia’s first wife, whom he married in his native Afghanistan. The family moved to Canada in 2007 and settled in St. Leonard.
Prosecutors allege that the victims died in an honour killing, plotted by Shafia because he believed his daughters had shamed him by consorting with boys, dressing provocatively and disobeying him. Mohammad, who was infertile, had asked for a divorce, jurors have been told. The prosecution claims the deaths were staged to look like an accident.
Yahya told Mehdizadeh in her lengthy July 22 interrogation, that she was at the canal the night the car plunged into the water, though she said she fainted and did not see what happened. The following day, she recanted the statement. In her testimony this week, she said she lied to save her son Hamed, fearing he would be tortured in jail. She couldn’t explain why she thought the lie would absolve Hamed.
Thursday, she expanded her answer, saying that the lie wasn’t meant only to save her son.
“[Police] put me there for six hours and I was not able to sleep in the room because of my other children,” she testified. “It was not just Hamed’s issue. Three other daughters, I lost that before. I lost Rona. I lost all my life.”
Yahya explained that the lies were mixed with truths. She told the inspector that when the 10-member family, travelling in two cars from Niagara Falls to Montreal, arrived in Kingston early on the morning of June 30, 2009, they stopped alongside the road somewhere and she got into the other vehicle, a Lexus SUV, and fell asleep and did not remember anything else after that.
“I told that to Shahin,” Yahya testified Thursday. “I just made a story for him.”
But it was true, she said, that they stopped alongside a road at a spot she could not recall and she waited in the Nissan, which she was driving, along with the four females who ended up dead. While she waited, Hamed and Shafia went in search of a motel.
“It wasn’t in that place which I told that to Shahin,” Yahya testified. “I told him that. I just made a story for him … that’s correct, that Hamed and Shafia came [to get] me, that’s correct, but at that place I just gave it another twist for him to leave me alone.”
“So you’re deliberately lying to him?” Crown lawyer Gerard Laarhuis asked.
“After that, when I said yes, I was [at Kingston Mills] and when I confess, yes that was intentionally lying and I didn’t have any more patience and he put me under a lot of pressure,” Yahya replied.
The accused have said that soon after they checked into a motel, Zainab came and asked for the keys to the Nissan, ostensibly to fetch clothes from the trunk. Yahya testified this week that she gave the keys to Zainab and then went to sleep.
The family has said they believe Zainab took the car on a joyride and crashed it into the canal.
Prosecutors allege that the Nissan did not go to the motel, but was taken directly to Kingston Mills where it was pushed into the canal by the Lexus. Hamed then drove the Lexus to Montreal and faked an accident to conceal damage to the SUV, prosecutors claim.
The manager who checked the Shafias into the motel where they stayed testified earlier in the trial that he did not see the Nissan on June 30 or any of the victims.
Yahya’s testimony Thursday did not begin until the afternoon because an ice storm temporarily cut power to the Kingston courthouse. She will continue testifying Friday, marking her fifth straight day on the witness stand.
(this appeared first at the Montreal Gazette)