For a second straight day, the lead prosecutor in this city’s so-called “honour killings” trial grilled one of the three people charged, and in doing so, he revisited what remains the most remarkable explanation of what actually happened.
In the witness box on Wednesday was Tooba Mohammad Yahya, an Afghan-Canadian mother who, along with her husband and eldest son, is accused of killing three of the couple’s teenaged daughters, together with her husband’s first wife, Rona Amir Mohammad.
Early the morning of June 30, 2009, the four victims’ bodies were discovered in a submerged car at the bottom of a Rideau Canal lock, just east of Kingston. The 10-member family had been returning to their Montreal home from a short vacation in Niagara Falls, travelling in a Nissan and a Lexus, and had stopped overnight at a Kingston motel.
So far, the jury has heard four highly disparate accounts of the event.
The police and Crown contend a multiple murder took place and that the Lexus was used to shove the Nissan into the lock, with the four victims already dead.
The defendants claim a terrible accident occurred after the oldest of the teens, Zainab Shafia, took the three others for an unauthorized late-night joyride in the Nissan and somehow drove into the lock.
In a third version – recanted the next day – Ms. Yahya told police that she and her two co-accused were at the lock that night and heard the car plunge into the water, but had nothing to do with it.
In a fourth account, defendant Hamed Shafia, 21, told a private investigator that Zainab drove herself and the other three to the lock that night, and that out of brotherly concern he followed in the Lexus to ensure they were all right.
He said both cars were near the lock when he accidentally bumped the Lexus into the rear of the Nissan, damaging both. Moments later, he said, he heard the Nissan hit the water and rushed over.
By his own admission, he made no effort to summon help. He honked his car horn, dangled a rope over the water, and, after waiting a while and seeing no sign of life, drove to Montreal, where he had urgent business, which included staging a one-car accident to account for the Lexus’s smashed headlight.
But he never told his family this, he said, because he feared being accused of negligence; Ms. Yahya testified on Wednesday that she first heard about it at the preliminary hearing last year.
In his cross-examination, Crown attorney Gerard Laarhuis asked Ms. Yahya if she did not find her son’s reticence extraordinary.
“I’m upset with Hamed, my heart is bleeding, he should have told us,” she replied.
And she agreed that, when Kingston police took her and the other defendants to the lock to show them where the four perished shortly before the trio was charged, she failed to mention that the family had been there at least three times before, once for a picnic.
In earlier evidence, she also told Mr. Laarhuis that a few days after the deaths, her husband discovered condoms in the bedroom shared by two of the teens and Ms. Mohammad but that the parents never discussed the find “because I didn’t want to upset him.”
“Now you had proof of condoms and boyfriends, and that could only mean one thing,” Mr. Laarhuis said.
“It didn’t mean anything to me,” Ms. Yahya replied. “It was not a big concern.”
The prosecutor spent much of the morning probing another unwelcome discovery in the Montreal home – photographs of victim Sahar Shafia, 17, in lingerie and posing with young men.
Ms. Yahya struggled to explain why she placed the photographs in a suitcase often used by her two co-accused, saying she had intended to keep them “because they were precious to me.”
The prosecution contends the principal motive in the four deaths was to restore the Shafia family “honour,” supposedly disgraced by the independent-minded conduct of the three teens and the interest the older two had in dating. And much wiretap evidence has been presented to support that thesis.
The pictures go to the heart of the defence case, which is that the two parents learned about their daughters’ supposedly immoral conduct only from finding the photos after they died.
The defence says the discovery of the photos prompted the couple to make incriminating remarks in reference to their dead daughters.
But why put the pictures in the suitcase, Mr. Laarhuis wanted to know. Why not destroy them?
“The very photos that caused your husband to call your daughters whores, filthy, dirty – these are the pictures you wanted to keep?”
It was the proper place to put them, she said.
As well, 29 pictures of Ms. Mohammad were found in the suitcase when police searched the Montreal house.
Ms. Yahya told the trial she must have put them in there inadvertently.
The prosecution, however, contends the photos had long been in the suitcase, which had accompanied Mr. Shafia and his son on an earlier trip to Dubai, which is possibly where the alleged murder was planned. As well, photos of Sahar’s boyfriend were discovered in the Lexus.
The cross-examination of Ms. Yahya will continue Thursday.