The 21-year-old Montreal man accused, along with his mother and father, of murdering three of his sisters and his father’s first wife, will not testify at his murder trial, jurors learned Tuesday morning. Hamed Shafia (inset) will be the only one of the three accused not to take the stand in his defence. His mother, Tooba Mohammad Yahya, 42, spent five and a half days on the witness stand and his father, Mohammad Shafia, 58, also testified.
Jurors weren’t told directly that the youngest of the trio will not testify, but they heard defence lawyer David Crowe, who represents Yahya, say that the final defence witness will have to be “qualified,” meaning it is an expert whose credentials must be assessed before the person is permitted to testify and give opinion evidence. The assessment process will take place in the courtroom Tuesday afternoon but because jurors will not be present, the discussions that take place cannot be reported.
“As I understand it, this is the last witness,” Mr. Justice Robert Maranger said, before sending jurors home for the day, after defence witness Mohammad Anwar Yaqubi, a half brother of Shafia who grew up with him in Kabul, Afghanistan, had completed his evidence.
On June 30, 2009, a Nissan Sentra was found at the bottom of a shallow canal in Kingston. Inside were the bodies of three Shafia children, sisters Zainab, 19, Sahar, 17, and Geeti, 13. Rona Amir Mohammad, 52, also was found dead inside the car. Rona Mohammad was Shafia’s first wife, whom he married in his native Afghanistan.
Three weeks later, the three family members were arrested and charged with first-degree murder. They have pleaded not guilty. The trial has been underway since October.
Yaqubi, a doctor who now lives in the Netherlands, testified that the foul curses Shafia is heard uttering on secret police wiretaps don’t suggest he killed his children. Yaqubi acknowledged he has had only sporadic telephone contact with his brother in the past 18 years.
“This is not the place for my brother to be in there, because my brother is not a murderer,” Yaqubi testified, in answer to a question by Crown prosecutor Gerard Laarhuis.
Yaqubi, who testified in Dari through an interpreter, said Canadians cannot understand that in his culture and language, Afghani men use the same curses to describe simple problems in life, like the theft of hubcaps, and the death of children. He said he believes his brother still uses an expression that he learned in childhood, to “cut someone in pieces with a cleaver” when enraged. Shafia is heard on one of the police wiretaps saying, of his dead daughters: “Even if they come back to life a hundred times, if I have a cleaver in my hand, I will cut [them] in pieces.”
But Yaqubi said he has never heard of honour killing.
“So you’re telling us that you’ve heard Afghan fathers talking about chopping up their own children with a cleaver but you’ve never heard about honour killing?” Laarhuis asked.
“Regarding killing for reputation or honour I never heard that … and this is a wrong label which has been put here, put on a traffic accident,” he replied in a long and rambling answer about the pain he has felt at seeing the media reports portraying his brother as a killer.
The judge cut Yaqubi off, at the request of Laarhuis, who said the witness was again failing to respond only to the questions. Laarhuis had to ask the judge to intercede several times during his cross examination.
On the wiretap recordings, played for jurors, Shafia calls his daughters “whores,” “filthy” and “rotten children” who betrayed the family and Islam and did “cruelty” to Shafia by secretly taking boyfriends and by wearing revealing clothes.
Prosecutors allege that the victims died in an honour killing orchestrated by Shafia to cleanse the shame he felt from the conduct of his daughters. The trial also heard that Mohammad wanted a divorce from Shafia and was supportive of the daughters who were dating.
“Honour is very important for him but we have to be careful; honour is a subjective issue,” Yaqubi testified.
He insisted that the interpretation and translation of the wiretap recordings and the police interviews of the three accused are flawed.
“I think they should be released and those people who are in charge of these interrogations or investigation, they didn’t do their job properly,” Yaqubi testified.
Yaqubi said his brother’s success in business spurred envy among people who would say “pessimistic” or negative things about the Shafia family.
“This was multi-millionaire family,” Yaqubi testified. “They had the best house in [a Kabul neighbourhood] and they had the best Mercedes Benz and the were the envy of the other families and the jealousy caused them to say these things.”
Yaqubi acknowledged that he did not know that Zainab had run away from home, that Sahar had attempted suicide, that Geeti had asked to be removed from the home by child protection authorities and that police had been to the Shafia home several times in the two years they lived in Montreal.
Laarhuis suggested Yaqubi did not really know what was going on in the Shafia home.
Yaqubi said the things he had been told seemed to be problems but “in reality, this is not a proper analysis, I think.”
(this appeared first at the Montreal Gazette)