In a videotaped police interrogation that left the packed courtroom transfixed, a young man accused of murdering three of his sisters, along with an older woman he described as his aunt, was confronted with a wealth of incriminating evidence and could offer explanations for none of it.
Hamed Shafia, now 20, was told repeatedly by his Kingston police inquisitors that he was lying, and that by continuing to try to conceal the truth he was further dishonouring his dead kin. In skillful questioning, it was also suggested to him that he was probably not the instigator of what happened on that June, 2009 night at Kingston Mills locks, but rather that he had been dragged into it by his father.
But Hamed would have none of it, admitting nothing. Sleepless for nearly two days and plainly under severe stress, he had been arrested hours earlier in his hometown of Montreal and was now in a Kingston police interview room.
Together with his father, Afghan-Canadian businessman Mohammad Shafia, 58, and mother, Tooba Mohammad Yahya, 41, Hamed faces four charges of first-degree murder in the drowning deaths of his teenaged sisters, Zainab, 19, Sahar, 17, and Geeti, 13. The fourth victim was Rona Amir Mohammad, 53, Mr. Shafia’s first wife in a clandestine polygamous marriage, but who was ostensibly his father’s cousin.
Their bodies were found June 30, 2009, in a car at the bottom of a lock on the Rideau Canal, just east of Kingston, as the 10-member family was returning to their Montreal home from a short holiday in Niagara Falls.
Kingston police detectives swiftly suspected the three accused had orchestrated a fake accident and that the submerged Nissan Sentra had, with considerable difficulty, been pushed into the water by the family’s second car, a Lexus.
Hamed was presented by the Kingston police with four pieces of evidence: cellphone records that showed he was in the Kingston area at a time when he insisted he was still in Niagara Falls; evidence that shards of headlight glass belonging to the Lexus were found at the lock; numerous incriminating remarks the three accused made, overheard on police wiretaps; and – perhaps the most difficult to explain away – a statement his mother had just given to police acknowledging that the three accused were in fact at the lock that night, and heard the Nissan containing the girls fall into the water with a splash.
Exactly what transpired she could not say, Tooba Mohammad Yahya added, because she fainted almost immediately.
In turn, two detectives questioned Hamed: Detective Constable Steve Koopman, who took a relaxed, almost conciliatory approach, even as he told Hamed he had no doubt he was guilty, because of the facts; and Sergeant Mike Boyles, who was more confrontational.
“Was this a train going down the tracks, something you couldn’t control?” Det. Constable Koopman said of the events that night. “It was probably your dad’s decision, I don’t think this was something you wanted to happen. … I know you miss your sisters.”
Sgt. Boyles later piled on the pressure: “There’s a lot of evidence, there’s no hiding this any more.” But he, too, tried to appeal to Hamed’s sense of family honour and loyalty: “Zainab and Sahar, and Geeti, and Rona too – they would want me to find the truth.”
Hamed replied mostly in monosyllables, saying he knew nothing, but asking many questions of his own, anxious to know what evidence the police had gathered. And he stuck to the story that Zainab and the others had taken the Nissan for a joyride that night, while the family was staying overnight at a Kingston motel, and had somehow driven into the lock.
All four women drowned, autopsies showed, but where and when has never been established. Three of the victims had fresh bruises on their heads, and one of the car windows was wide open, leading police to believe the drowning took place before the Nissan tipped into the water.
As for his mother’s statement that she and the other two accused were in fact at the lock, Hamed seemed trapped. He could not agree with her, but neither was he willing to call his mother a liar. He was shown a video clip of her police statement, and could say nothing.
He asked to be taken back to his police cell.
Prosecutors allege the multiple deaths were a so-called “honour killing,” committed in a bid to restore the family’s “honour,” stained by the rebellious, independent-minded conduct of the three Shafia sisters, in particular the dating habits of the oldest two.
Rona Amir Mohammad, the first wife, who joined the rest of the family four months after they immigrated in June, 2007, was murdered as the final act of a long-simmering rivalry between the two wives, prosecutors contend.
In damning wiretap evidence aired Monday, the jury heard Mr. Shafia say he had no regrets about what he did to the four because they had betrayed all the values he respected.
Since the trial opened Oct. 20 at the Frontenac County Court House, the seven-woman, five-man jury has listened to an array of compelling prosecution evidence, including incriminating computer searches about how to commit murder, and testimony from Mr. Shafia’s brother-in-law, who recounted a conversation with Mr. Shafia several weeks before the deaths in which the father sought his help in a plot to murder Zainab, the oldest daughter, with whom he was particularly enraged.
The Shafias have three other children, who were placed in care after their parents’ arrest. All seven siblings were the biological children of Tooba Mohammad Yahya.