The murder trial of a Montreal mother, father and son accused of killing four family members erupted in chaos Monday when a family member shouted at Mohammad Shafia (inset) and ran to the rear of the glass-enclosed prisoner’s box in the courtroom. Before security staff could stop the girl, she pressed her lips against the glass. Shafia returned the kiss by putting his lips on the glass.
Jurors had just risen from their seats to leave for a break and were still in the room to see the spectacle.
The day also marked the end of five and a half days of testimony by Tooba Mohammad Yahya, the 42-year-old mother accused of killing three daughters and her husband’s first wife. Yahya and husband Mohammad Shafia, 58, and their son Hamed 21, are charged with four counts of first-degree murder. They have pleaded not guilty.
Yahya completed four days of cross-examination by a Crown prosecutor with a defiant rebuke.
“This is a court date,” Yahya said, angrily. “It’s a date when people want to know the truth, not stories made up from your mind.” She tapped at her temple with her finger as she spoke.
The response came after Crown lawyer Gerard Laarhuis went over again the prosecution theory that the trio stuffed four family members into a compact car and pushed it into a shallow canal in Kingston at an isolated, unlit location early on the morning of June 30, 2009.
Later that morning, the submerged Nissan Sentra was found underwater. Inside were the bodies of three Shafia children, daughters Zainab, 19, Sahar, 17, and Geeti, 13. Rona Amir Mohammad, 52, also was found dead inside the car. She was Shafia’s first wife, whom he married in his native Afghanistan.
Prosecutors allege that the victims died in an honour killing, orchestrated by Shafia because he believed his daughters had shamed him by consorting with boys, dressing provocatively and disobeying him. His first wife had asked for a divorce, jurors have been told.
Laarhuis returned, in his final hours of questioning, to a theme he had raised many times previously, that Yahya had often given a police interrogator answers that seemed to exonerate her and her son while pointing the finger of blame at her husband.
“No, no, dear sir … this is your thought,” Yahya testified. “This was a respectful family, three people which was grieving, [police] put them under arrest and at that time when he put me six, seven hours under interrogation”
Yahya repeated her claim that the pressure of the interrogation and her fear forced her to fabricate stories based on what the interrogator had said. Prosecutors claim many of those statements that she now disavows were based on what truly happened.
“You brought a respectful family and put them in jail for two and a half years because you guys, the suspicions that you had, you guys took our freedom and took the freedom of our family and put my son in jail,” Yahya said.
“Can you try just to answer the questions, though,” Laarhuis said.
Yahya’s lawyer, David Crowe, called two siblings of Shafia as witnesses.
Half sister Farida Nayebkheil, an accountant who lives in Holland, testified that Shafia drove her to school every day when she was attending university in Kabul, Afghanistan. She portrayed him as a kind and liberal-minded person.
“I had a really good childhood with him,” the 48-year-old woman testified, through a Dari interpreter. “He was always proud of me and he loved me.”
She said she’s had telephone contact with him perhaps once or twice a year in the past 10 years.
Crown prosecutor Laurie Lacelle’s tone was terse as she began to question the woman. Lacelle handed her two photos that had been introduced as evidence earlier Monday by Crowe. They show Sahar, snapping photos of herself with a cellphone camera, while she is wearing a revealing bikini.
Yahya testified that these “naked” pictures enraged Shafia and they prompted him to utter some of the foul curses heard on secret police wiretaps. Yahya has testified previously that he did not see the pictures until after the deaths.
Nayebkheil thought the photos were of Zainab.
Lacelle asked the witness if she thought there was anything offensive about the photos.
“No,” Nayebkheil answered.
“Would it surprise you to know your brother described Sahar as a whore because of seeing these photos?” Lacelle asked.
“I don’t know about this matter.”
“Well, does it surprise you or not?” Lacelle insisted.
“Yes, I am surprised, yes,” Nayebkheil answered.
“You didn’t know about that belief of his?”
“No,” she said.
“You don’t know about many of his beliefs?” Lacelle asked.
“At the time when he was with us, indeed he didn’t have such beliefs,” Nayebkheil responded.
Shafia’s half brother Mohammad Anwar Yaqubi, who is a doctor living in the Netherlands, testified that Shafia encouraged women in their family to get good educations. Shafia never told his sisters what they should wear, testified Yaqubi, who said his family and Shafia and his family fled Afghanistan together in 1992.
Yaqubi said he has heard Shafia sometimes use an expression when angry, “I will just cut him to pieces with a cleaver,” but he had no fear that he would ever kill someone.
Shafia is heard on one of the police wiretaps, talking about his dead daughters and saying: “Even if they come back to life a hundred times, if I have a cleaver in my hand, I will cut [them] in pieces.”
Crown lawyers had not questioned Yaqubi when court adjourned for the day.
(this appeared first at the Montreal Gazette)