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Toronto Doctor charged in death of physician wife pleads guilty to second-degree murder

Mohammed Shamji and Elana Fric-Shamji are shown in a photo from Fric-Shamji's facebook page.

HO/The Canadian Press

The night that Dr. Elana Fric-Shamji was killed, her 11-year-old daughter woke to the sounds of her parents fighting in the next room. She heard banging, and then her mother scream, and then silence. When she wandered into their bedroom to investigate, her father ordered her back to bed.

On Monday, the now 14-year-old laid eyes on her father, Dr. Mohammed Shamji, for the first time since that night in November, 2016, listening as he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the death of her mother.

She and her younger sister were among dozens of family and friends of the slain mother of three – an associate professor at the University of Toronto and a beloved family physician in Scarborough – who filled the courtroom; each one donning a purple ribbon as a symbol against domestic violence.

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Dr. Shamji, too, had been a reputed neurosurgeon, and although those closest to Dr. Fric-Shamji knew about issues in her marriage, the couple’s social-media profiles – plastered with photos of glamorous vacations and ambitious long-distance races – suggested an idealistic home life.

In reality, according to the agreed facts read out by prosecutor Henry Poon as part of Dr. Shamji’s guilty plea Monday, their 12 years of marriage had been “volatile and dysfunctional,” marred by reports of verbal, emotional and physical abuse.

In May, 2016, Dr. Fric-Shamji had initiated divorce proceedings. But after her husband pleaded with her to give him another chance “to better himself in the marriage,” she agreed to try to make it work. But their marriage continued to deteriorate, and that summer she decided it was over for good. Still, Dr. Shamji refused to indulge any talk of divorce or separation.

In October, Dr. Fric-Shamji began an affair of her own with a fellow doctor, and formally retained a divorce lawyer. But the holidays were approaching, and Dr. Shamji asked her to wait for the sake of their three children. She relented.

But Dr. Shamji, who around this time confirmed his wife was having an affair, was formally served with divorce papers on Nov. 28, 2016. Tensions were high in the family home, court heard, as Dr. Shamji was “imposing himself” on his wife in an attempt to change her mind.

It was two days later that their eldest daughter woke to the sounds of fighting coming from her parents’ bedroom.

Dr. Shamji had hit his wife multiple times, court heard on Monday, causing “significant blunt force injuries all over her body, including a broken neck and broken ribs.” He then choked her to death. Afterward, Dr. Shamji crammed his wife’s body into a suitcase and drove roughly 35 kilometres north of the city, where he dumped it into the Humber River.

The following day, Dr. Shamji carried on with his usual routine, even performing surgeries, like nothing was amiss.

“He lied to just about everyone he came into contact with as to his missing wife’s whereabouts,” according to the agreed facts. He planted evidence, including phone messages, that he hoped would cover his own tracks and instead point the finger at his wife’s lover.

Dr. Shamji was arrested on Dec. 2, 2016. He was denied bail, and has been in jail ever since.

The guilty plea was a bittersweet resolution for the family, their lawyer Jean DeMarco told reporters outside the courthouse. For one thing, it means that the eldest child – a key witness in the case – will be spared from having to testify.

“Justice will never be for us. Never,” Ana Fric, who is now raising her daughter’s three children, told reporters outside the courthouse. “The only justice we will have is if she can come back. And she will never come back.”

Dr. Shamji will return to court May 8 for a sentencing hearing.

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