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Honour Killing Trial: Tooba Yahya Testifies She Was Trying To Protect Son

01/10/2012 12:02 EST | Updated 01/11/2012 10:42 EST
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KINGSTON, Ont. - A courtroom in eastern Ontario was witness to dramatic legal theatre Tuesday, as a woman accused in a so-called quadruple honour killing was confronted with a video appearing to directly contradict her sworn testimony.

Tooba Yahya, 42, is one of three family members accused of killing her three daughters and her husband's other wife over family honour. She is taking the stand in her own defence this week at the murder trial.

The Crown alleges the killings were precipitated by family anger, in particular from patriarch Mohammad Shafia, that daughters Zainab, 19, and Sahar, 17, had boyfriends. But the family has said that Zainab had been forgiven and Shafia didn't even know Sahar had a boyfriend until after her death.

He found out, Yahya testified, when cleaning the house on July 5 or 6, 2009, following the deaths on June 30. Shafia found a photo album in Sahar's room containing pictures of her hugging her boyfriend, she said, and was livid. He had the tendency to rail for weeks on end about one thing, Yahya said, and explained that was why he was recorded on police intercepts about two weeks later referring to his daughters as "treacherous" and "whores."

That explanation, Crown attorney Gerard Laarhuis suggested, turns on Shafia stumbling upon the photo album in the way Yahya described. So why, he asked her, are there video clips from media interviews from days earlier showing Shafia thumbing through that same album?

"It would have been impossible, because you hadn't cleaned the rooms," Laarhuis said.

"Sir, if I show my home to you I have tons of albums that are all the same," she replied.

No, Laarhuis said. That one had a princess on the cover, exactly the same as the one purportedly found days later while cleaning, and which is now an exhibit in the murder trial.

"There is not just one album of that in the world," Yahya said. She then suggested that maybe when Sahar bought that photo album she actually bought two identical ones.

Did they contain identical photos, Laarhuis asked. Yahya said sometimes when people make prints of photos they get duplicates. Laarhuis asked if that meant there were several identical albums in the home, each containing pictures of Sahar with her boyfriend. If one such album sent him into a rage what would several do, he asked.

"Shafia would be seeing these pictures all the time," Laarhuis said, his voice rising in volume. "He would be ballistic."

As the video played on screens in the courtroom showing Shafia displaying family photos for reporters, the last shot of Shafia closing an album to reveal what looks like a princess on the cover caused several jurors to raise their eyebrows.

Laarhuis tried to nail down exactly how many princess photo albums the Shafias owned.

"One or two," Yahya said. "We have many of those."

Laarhuis asked her to clarify, and again Yahya said one or two. Is it one or is it two, Laarhuis asked, saying the distinction is important.

"Two or one," Yahya replied, causing some spectators in court to start laughing. "I can't tell you precisely. ... We have many albums."

Yahya, 42, Shafia, 58, and their son Hamed, 21, are accused of killing three teenage Shafia sisters and Shafia's first wife in a polygamous marriage. Zainab, Sahar, Geeti, 13, and Rona Amir Mohammad, 52, were found in a car at the bottom of a canal in Kingston on June 30, 2009, when the Montreal family was heading home after a trip to Niagara Falls, Ont.

The Crown alleges the girls and Mohammad were killed over family honour. Yahya testified earlier Tuesday that it was an entirely new concept to her.

"This is something which I never heard," she testified. "Honour killing, I heard that this time which they put that name to our case which is really shameful for us."

Never in her life, including the 21 years she lived in Afghanistan, had she ever heard of a "stupid father or a stupid mother (doing) anything like this," Yahya told court.

Laarhuis is also expected to cross-examine Yahya on her statement to police in which she placed the three of them at the scene the night of the deaths. In an interrogation after her arrest, Yahya said they were at Kingston Mills locks that night, but all she knew was that she heard a splash, fainted, and woke up later in a motel. She testified Tuesday that was a lie, made up to protect Hamed by taking the blame herself because she thought police would torture him.

"I was new to Canada," she testified. "In our country when someone was accused ... just to be charged they take his nails out."

The family left Afghanistan in 1992 and lived in Pakistan, Dubai and Australia before moving to Canada in 2007.

Yahya didn't say how she thought that story would help Hamed, as in that same interrogation she also said Hamed was there that night.

Yahya, Shafia and Hamed have each pleaded not guilty to four counts of first-degree murder.

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