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|Sujet: What were these people thinking? Dim 29 Jan 2012 - 18:37|| |
All 3 guilty in Shafia murder trial; judge condemns twisted concept of honour
By Allison Jones, The Canadian Press
KINGSTON, Ont. - Three members of an Afghanistan-born Montreal family were convicted Sunday of killing three daughters and a co-wife in what the judge described as "cold-blooded, shameful murders" spawned from a "completely twisted concept of honour."
A jury took 15 hours to find Mohammad Shafia, 58, his wife Tooba Yahya, 42, and their son Hamed, 21, each guilty of four counts of first-degree murder in a shocking so-called mass honour killing that has captivated and horrified Canadians from coast to coast.
Investigators who pored over the details of the disturbing inner workings of the Shafia family and examined the tiniest pieces of evidence from the crime scene urged people Sunday to remember the victims.
All that sisters Zainab, 19, Sahar, 17, and Geeti, 13, and Rona Amir Mohammad, 52, their father's childless first wife in a polygamous marriage wanted was freedom, and it cost them their lives, court heard.
Their bodies were found June 30, 2009, in a car submerged in a canal in Kingston, Ont., in a multiple murder the Crown asserted was committed to restore family honour, lost when the girls began dating and acting out. Rona was simply disposed of, the Crown said.
The jury's verdict indicates the seven women and five men believe Shafia, Yahya and Hamed plotted to kill their troublesome family members, dumping their bodies in a canal and staging it — albeit clumsily — to look like an accident.
The judge agreed and cut right to the heart of the cultural cloud that hung over this case.
"It is difficult to conceive of a more heinous, more despicable, more honourless crime," Ontario Superior Court Judge Robert Maranger said.
"The apparent reason behind these cold-blooded, shameful murders was that the four completely innocent victims offended your completely twisted concept of honour...that has absolutely no place in any civilized society."
As the verdicts were being read Hamed, the only one of the now-convicted murderers not to show any emotion during the trial, put his head in his hands and hunched over in the prisoners' box. His parents rubbed his back. Soon Yahya began to cry, but the three were defiant in the face of the verdicts.
"We are not criminal, we are not murderer, we didn't commit the murder and this is unjust," Shafia said through an interpreter when the judge asked if he had anything to say.
Yahya, who spent a withering six days on the stand testifying in her own defence, was similarly assertive.
"Your honourable justice, this is not just," she said, also through an interpreter. "I am not a murderer, and I am a mother — a mother!"
Hamed said in English: "Sir, I did not drown my sisters anywhere."
First-degree murder carries an automatic life sentence with no chance to apply for parole for 25 years. The family has been behind bars since their arrests on July 22, 2009.
Outside court, Crown attorney Gerard Laarhuis said the verdict is a reflection of Canadian values that he hopes will resonate.
"This jury found that four strong, vivacious and freedom-loving women were murdered by their own family in the most troubling of circumstances," he said.
"This verdict sends a very clear message about our Canadian values and the core principles in a free and democratic society that all Canadians enjoy and even visitors to Canada enjoy," Laarhuis said to cheers of approval from onlookers.
Laarhuis was interrupted in his remarks by Moosa Hadi, a central figure in the case who was a fervent supporter of the Shafias. He sent reporters and the lead investigator emails stating that the prosecution of the family was criminal and because of it he is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
"This is a lie, this is absolutely a lie," Hadi shouted over Laarhuis before being pulled away by tactical police officers. "This is a miscarriage of the justice. Shame on you, Mr. Gerard."
Members of the public listening to Laarhuis' statement, many of whom have attended the trial from the Oct. 20 start, shouted Hadi down and cheered as Laarhuis continued.
Lead investigator Det. Sgt. Chris Scott praised Crown lawyers for allowing the four women to finally be heard.
"They gave these victims a voice when they had none and so I appreciate their work," he said outside court.
Shafia's lawyer, Peter Kemp, said after the verdicts that he believes the comments his client made on wiretaps calling his dead daughters whores and saying there is no value of life without honour, may have weighed more heavily on the jury's minds than the physical evidence in the case.
"He wasn't convicted for what he did," Kemp said. "He was convicted for what he said."
Hamed's lawyer, Patrick McCann, said he was disappointed with the verdict, but said his client will appeal and he believes the other two will as well.
"I still have a hard time understanding how the Crown theory could actually have happened," he said.
The Crown theory was that Shafia, Yahya and Hamed drowned the four victims, placed their bodies in the car, then pushed it into the canal using the family's other vehicle.
The defence had said it was an accident, that they had gone for a joy ride with Zainab driving and accidentally plunged into the canal with Hamed watching, although he didn't call police.
Trouble in the wealthy Afghan-Canadian family had been brewing for some time, the Crown alleged.
The Crown painted a picture of a household controlled by a domineering Shafia, with Hamed keeping his sisters in line and doling out discipline when his father was away on frequent business trips to Dubai.
Some of the Shafia children followed the rules and the others didn't. The ones who couldn't be controlled, the Crown said, are now dead.
Rona was not treated much better than an unruly child, court heard. And all any of them wanted was freedom, the Crown said.
Zainab had run away, but that in itself shamed the family, so she was coaxed back with a promise to marry her boyfriend Ammar, the Crown said. The family viewed him as a loser and was not pleased with the relationship, but if she was married she would be Ammar's problem, not theirs, and her behaviour couldn't affect their honour.
Sahar too was dating, though she tried to keep her Christian boyfriend secret from her parents. Condoms were found in her room, as were pictures of her wearing short skirts and shorts, hugging her boyfriend. That clothing caused Shafia to curse Sahar as a whore after her death.
Two months before she was found in the canal, Sahar told her boyfriend's aunt that if her parents found out about her relationship she was "a dead woman."
Geeti was becoming almost impossible to control: skipping school, failing classes, being sent home for wearing revealing clothes and stealing. But her most egregious breach was telling almost every authority figure she encountered that she wanted to be sent to foster care, the Crown said.
There was a family code of silence and Geeti broke that, it was alleged. If the Shafias thought Zainab and Sahar were hard to control, Geeti would be their worst nightmare. For Geeti, the writing was on the wall, the Crown said.
Rona was Shafia's first wife but, unable to conceive, her status in the Shafia household began eroding as soon as a young Tooba Yahya was brought in as a polygamous wife, court heard.
Shafia beat her and "made life a torture," Rona wrote in a diary. Yahya called her a servant, held onto Rona's passport and would tell her "your life is in my hands," she said.
Rona spent her days wandering the streets, crying, sitting in her room or using payphones to call relatives, she wrote.
Rona, Zainab, Sahar and Geeti died at the tail end of a family trip to Niagara Falls, Ont. They were heading back to Montreal and had stopped in Kingston for the night when tragedy struck.
Zainab secretly took the family's Nissan Sentra, bought used just one day before they left on the trip, and went for a spin with the three others, the family said. They told police that was the last they saw of Zainab.
Hamed would later tell a private investigator of sorts hired by Shafia that he saw the car full of his relatives leave the motel that night and he followed them, concerned for their safety. He followed in the family's Lexus SUV. They ended up at the locks, where Hamed said he rear-ended them accidentally and urged them to turn around.
As he was picking up some pieces of broken headlight, he heard a splash, he said. The car had plunged into the water.
So, he said, he sounded the horn of the Lexus once as a call for help, and took a rope from the trunk and dangled it in the water, dropping some pieces of headlight where they were later found. Seeing no signs of life, he said he drove straight home to Montreal, calling police only to report an accident he admitted he staged to mask damage to the Lexus.
He never mentioned his dead family members.
The Crown said that story was a "complete fabrication." Really, the girls and Rona never even made it to the motel, they said. They were driven to the canal and killed there, court heard. Why else would Hamed and Shafia have checked into the motel for six people when they were a family of 10, the Crown noted.
In fact, the whole "family vacation" itself was a farce, they said; an integral part of the mass murder plan.
By the time they were heading home, passing through Kingston around 1:30 a.m., the plot was going according to plan, the Crown said. They had left Niagara Falls so late in the day that it was pitch black when they passed through Kingston, then got off the highway at the exit for the locks at Kingston Mills. They had stopped there to use the washroom on the way to Niagara Falls, so if any of the kids or Rona — sleeping soundly in the Nissan — woke up, waiting there wouldn't be suspicious, the Crown said.
Yahya waited in the car with the soon-to-be victims while Shafia and Hamed checked into the motel, leaving their other children there.
When father and son return, Rona and the girls are drowned in one of the several areas of open water, either to the point of unconsciousness or death, the Crown said. The cause of death for all four was drowning.
The Crown had no direct proof to cement that theory, but the idea that they were dead before the car went in the water hangs on a few pieces of evidence. Experts testified that markings on the bottom of the Nissan show it got hung up on the ledge when it first was sent over.
That's why the Lexus was used to push it in, and that's why there were pieces of its head lights at the scene, the Crown said, not because Hamed was there and rear-ended them.
There's also the evidence that makes it seem like nobody tried to escape the car during its plunge into the water or as it submerged in the canal. The driver's window was fully open, nobody was wearing a seat belt, and their bodies were found more or less floating over seats — Zainab and Geeti in the front, Sahar and Rona in the back.
The car was found in the morning around 9. The headlights were off and so was the ignition. The evidence simply does not fit with an accident scenario, the Crown said.
The police certainly didn't think so, and began to treat the deaths as suspicious almost immediately. By the time Shafia, Yahya and Hamed were arrested on July 22, 2009, the case against them included intercepted conversations secretly recorded by police. Comments mostly made by Shafia on those wiretaps provided the foundation for the Crown's "honour killing" theory.
"I say to myself, 'Would they come back to life a hundred times, for you to do the same again,'" Shafia says on one. "That is how hurt I am. Tooba, they betrayed us immensely. They violated us immensely. There can be no betrayal, no treachery, no violation more than this."
"Even if they hoist me up onto the gallows...nothing is more dear to me than my honour," Shafia says on another.