Three members of Montreal family decided four other troublesome family members had to be killed because they would not bow to a strict cultural code of modesty and obedience, jurors at the Shafia murder trial were told on Thursday (jan 26). Crown lawyer Laurie Lacelle outlined the prosecution theory of a complex conspiracy as she completed her closing address to jurors who will decide the fate of Mohammad Shafia, 58, his second wife Tooba Mohammad Yahya, 42, and their son Hamed, 21. The trio pleaded not guilty to four counts of first-degree murder.
“The evidence is that Shafia, Tooba and Hamed had decided that there was a diseased limb on their family tree… their decision was to remove the diseased limb in its entirety and trim the tree back to the good wood,” Lacelle told jurors.
Shafia sisters, Zainab (inset above), 19, Sahar, 17, and Geeti, 13, were found dead inside the family’s Nissan Sentra that was discovered submerged June 30, 2009, at the bottom of the Rideau Canal at Kingston Mills, a lockstation on the Rideau Canal in eastern Ontario. Rona Amir Mohammad, 52, also was in the car. She was Shafia’s first wife, whom he married in his native Afghanistan before the polygamous family moved to Canada in 2007 and settled in Montreal.
All of the victims had drowned but examinations could not pinpoint where and how they drowned. Prosecutors allege that the deaths were staged to look like an accident and that the victims were drowned or incapacitated before the Nissan was pushed into the canal by the family’s other vehicle, a Lexus SUV.
Lacelle told the jurors that Shafia was enraged that his two oldest daughters had boyfriends and were dressing in revealing clothes. His daughter Geeti was defiant, did not like school and was beginning to mimic the behaviour of her older sisters. And Shafia’s first wife was a source of ongoing friction with Yahya.
“Mohammad Shafia killed his daughters and Rona and he felt entitled to do so in order to protect his family honour,” Lacelle said, referring jurors to secret police wiretap recordings on which Shafia was heard cursing his dead daughters as “whores” who “betrayed” the family and “committed treachery.”
Lacelle said Yahya, who testified during the trial, offered “self serving lies” in court in a bid to conceal her “indispensable role” in the murder plot, Lacelle said.
The prosecutor said Yahya drove the death car to the isolated canal some time after 1:30 a.m. on June 30. She suggested that Shafia and Hamed took three other children, who were not to be murdered, to a nearby motel and dropped them off while Yahya stayed with the intended victims.
“She played the role of delivering Rona and her daughters to their deaths …she kept them at the scene, she kept them unsuspecting,” Lacelle said.
She said that a short time later, Shafia and Hamed returned, killed the four, placed them in the Nissan and pushed it into the canal at a place where they were sure it would be discovered the next morning.
Lacelle did not pinpoint how and where the victims were killed, but reminded jurors that prosecutors need only establish that the accused committed the murders and that the killings were planned and deliberate.
She said there was “ample and overwhelming” evidence that all of the accused knew of and participated in the scheme.
She pointed to evidence that Hamed, who spoke fluent English, used a laptop computer to search for a place to carry out the killings. Police found evidence of searches on the computer for “where to commit murder” and “can a prisoner have control over his real estate.”
“Hamed was one of the main architects of the plan to kill Rona and his sisters,” Lacelle said, in her six-hour closing address spread over two days.
Lacelle also told jurors there is evidence that should convince them that Yahya was tired of being a co-wife with Rona Mohammad. In a diary written by Mohammad and found by police after the deaths, Shafia’s first wife wrote of a miserable existence in which she was alienated from Shafia by Yahya, abused and belittled.
“Rona’s status as Shafia’s first wife had long been a problem and Tooba made it clear that she wanted her out of her family,” Lacelle said.
Jurors were reminded of evidence that Yahya stopped speaking to her daughter Sahar to punish her for misbehaviour, prompting the teenage girl to tell adults that her life at home was “unbearable” and that she wanted to die.
“[Yahya] had a capacity for cruelty to her own children,” Lacelle said.
On another police wiretap, recorded after the deaths, Yahya was heard saying: “I know (Zainab) was already done, but I wish two others weren’t.”
“She uses the word ‘done’ as in, finished, over,” Lacelle told jurors. “She knew that it was all over for Zainab and there was no other choice to be made … she had to be killed.”
Lacelle said the evidence establishes clearly that Zainab’s decision in April 2009 to run away from home to a shelter to be with a boyfriend that the family did not accept was the beginning of the family’s chaotic spiral that led to the murder plot.
Lacelle’s address did not begin until late afternoon Thursday after a bomb threat forced police to close the Kingston courthouse for three hours. Tactical officers, bomb specialists and uniformed police swarmed over the historic stone building at 9:45 a.m. Spectators who had queued to get into the Shafia trial, judges and lawyers were ordered to evacuate the building. The Shafias were taken away in a prisoner van.
When the building reopened at 1 p.m., everyone entering was required to pass through a metal dectector and bags were searched. Three tactical officers were stationed inside the courtroom when Lacelle resumed her address to jurors.
Kingston Police said only that there was a security issue.
Judge Robert Maranger of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice will address jurors Friday, explaining the law and the rules they must apply to the evidence. The 12-member jury is expected to begin deliberating late Friday afternoon. They will be sequestered once they begin.
(this appeared first at the Montreal Gazette)