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How arrogance and mistakes led to Shafia's murder conviction Add to ...

Even after murdering his daughters and his first wife a few hours earlier, the millionaire businessman haggled over the motel bill.

One view of the guilty verdicts in the Shafia “honour killings” trial is that they were the final act in a kind of morality play that pitted 21st-century technology against ancient, twisted concepts of right and wrong.

The other connecting thread in the police investigation was the almost unfathomable, small-minded stupidity and arrogance of the three Afghan-Canadian defendants, borne out of a lifelong sense of entitlement.

Mohammad Shafia, 59, was wealthy and had essentially bought his residency in Canada under the federal investor-immigrant program. He owned a $1.6-million mall in Laval, Que., and was having a big, custom-designed home built in Brossard, a Montreal suburb. He had cars, property, assorted business projects, and had travelled widely.

In sum, he belonged to a tiny minority of privileged middle-class Afghans, both before he and his family fled the advancing Taliban in 1992, and later abroad.

From the trial testimony emerged a portrait of the man he was at home: A crude, brutal patriarch who terrified his children including those he’s convicted of murdering.

He, his co-accused second wife and their eldest son Hamed were not only clumsy killers. They were also bad liars, offering the jury wildly conflicting accounts of what happened on the night the four victims died.

From the first hours of the investigation, the trio struggled to dig themselves out of the hole they were in, weaving an ever-less credible tangle of lies and obfuscation. Steadily the hole got deeper.

And yet, in his hubris, Mr. Shafia appeared convinced they could get away with it.

“You guys aren't hit men, you don't know how to cover your tracks,” Kingston Police detective Mike Boyles told 18-year-old Hamed Shafia, shortly after he and his parents were charged with the four murders in July, 2009.

That is the understatement of this horrifying tale.


Their critical mistake may have been the purchase of the black, 2005 Nissan Sentra in which the victims' bodies were found on the morning of June 30, submerged at the bottom of the waterway that connects the Rideau Canal to the Cataraqui River and Lake Ontario, supposedly after being borrowed without permission.

Mr. Shafia already owned two cars – a Pontiac minivan and the expensive Lexus SUV that would hurriedly push the Nissan into the lock when the murder plot began to unravel.

But neither was suitable for what the killers had in mind. So one day before the road trip that took the Shafia family to Niagara Falls, Mohammad Shafia bought the Sentra in Montreal for $5,000.

It was small, easy to operate and disposable.

But it had one key feature the murderers overlooked: Front-wheel drive, meaning the front wheels had to have traction for the car to move. So once it got part-way into the space above the lock, and became hung up on a concrete step at the edge, the front wheels spun uselessly.

That's why it had to be shoved in from behind by the Lexus, damaging both cars and leaving splinters of headlight plastic that were instrumental in the police reconstruction of events. In the rush, the Lexus also scraped a Parks Canada garbage barrel, scarring the car with tell-tale specks of green paint.

Staff Sergeant Chris Scott, who headed the investigation, says that had the Lexus not been deployed, the case would have been entirely different and far more challenging, probably necessitating long-term wiretaps even trickier than usual because most of the conversations would have been in Dari, a complicated language similar to Farsi.

Other aspects of the Nissan's situation were also peculiar.

Ostensibly, according to the defence, the four victims had been on a late-night joyride. But none of them was wearing a seatbelt. The ignition was in the “off” position. And the two front seats were fully reclined, making it difficult for even a tall person to have manoeuvred the steering wheel.

Strangest of all, the driver's side window was fully open.

At trial, the prosecution said that was because one of the murderers had had to reach inside and put the car into first gear so it would move forward with its ghastly cargo of four women who were either unconscious or (much more likely) had already been drowned nearby in the canal.

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