Only three choices, judge tells Shafia trial jurors

Jurors who will decide the fate of three members of a Montreal family accused of murdering four others have three options, they were told Friday (jan 27) by the judge presiding over the case. The 12 jurors can find each accused guilty of first- or second-degree murder or they can find them not guilty, Judge Robert Maranger of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice said, in his closing remarks to jurors. Maranger completed reading his 240-page address just after 4 p.m.

Maranger said the jury could render different verdicts for each of the three accused although they were jointly charged with four counts of first-degree murder in a purported honour killing.

“Just because they are charged together and are being tried together does not mean you have to make the same decision for everybody,” Maranger said.

Mohammad Shafia, 58, his second wife Tooba Mohammad Yahya, 42, and their son Hamed, 21, pleaded not guilty and have been on trial for more than three months. They have been in custody since they were arrested in Montreal in July 2009.

Shafia sisters, Zainab, 19, Sahar, 17, and Geeti, 13, were found dead June 30, 2009, inside the family’s Nissan Sentra that was discovered submerged at the bottom of the Rideau Canal at Kingston Mills, a lock station 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. The family maintains it was an accident and that the victims mistakenly drove into the canal.

Prosecutors allege that Shafia was enraged that his teenage daughters were dating boys without permission, dressing provocatively and defying him. The Crown argued that Yahya and Hamed joined the plot first conceived by Shafia. Jurors were told that Rona Mohammad supported the girls and was in conflict with Shafia’s second wife.

Maranger told the jurors that the Crown must have proved, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the killings were planned and deliberate, in order to find the accused guilty of first-degree murder. He explained that criminal law provides that a person can be found guilty of murder as a party to the crime because he or she aided or abetted – helped or encouraged – the principal offender.

Maranger reminded them that they must be unanimous in their verdicts but that it is not always possible for jurors to agree.

“Try your very, very best to decide this case,” Maranger said.

Jurors came to court prepared for what could be grueling days ahead. Several carried or pulled suitcases on wheels that were locked inside a small room near the courtroom before proceedings began.

Once jurors begin deliberating verdicts, they will be sequestered and will not be permitted to go home until the case concludes. If deliberations run over several days, the jurors will be taken nightly to a nearby hotel, under guard. They will be brought back to the courthouse each day to continue their deliberations.

Half an hour into the judge’s address, the scope of the job faced by the seven-woman, five-man jury was clear.

“Consider all of the evidence in reaching your decision,” Maranger told them.

Jurors heard 58 witnesses, including many who testified through interpretation, speaking in their native Dari, French, and Spanish.

More than 160 exhibits were filed, including thousands of pages of translated interviews and police wiretap recordings. The exhibits include more than 70 CDs and DVDs of documents and audio and video recordings.

Maranger’s address provides jurors with detailed guidance about how to apply the law to the evidence.

“Justice will not be done if you wrongly apply the law,” Maranger said.

Jurors retired to consider their verdicts at 4:30 p.m., but decided to end their work around 6 p.m. Friday. They left the courthouse in two minivans, planning have supper. They were escorted by court security officers and Kingston Police officers. They will be kept under guard at a hotel in Kingston when they are not at the courthouse deliberating.

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