KINGSTON, Ont. - A Montreal husband and wife accused of murdering their family were caught on wiretaps apparently placing themselves at the scene of the deaths, despite swearing to police they had not been there and had no idea what happened.
A few weeks after their three daughters and the husband's other wife in a polygamous marriage died in what Tooba Mohammad Yahya and Mohammad Shafia told police must have been a terrible accident, they are heard on potentially incriminating wiretaps fretting about what evidence police have.
Yahya, 41, Shafia, 58, and their son Hamed, 20, have each pleaded not guilty to four counts of first-degree murder. They're accused of killing three teenage sisters, Zainab, 19, Sahar, 17, and Geeti, 13, along with Rona Amir Mohammad, 50, one of their father's two wives. The four were found dead inside a submerged car in the Rideau Canal in Kingston, Ont., on June 30, 2009.
Police began to suspect the family soon after the bodies were discovered, court has heard, and placed listening devices in their car and home. On July 18, 2009, the police summoned the family to Kingston and told them, as a ruse, that they had found a camera at the scene and were reviewing its images.
The three can be heard on the wiretap, played Thursday in court, fretting about the possibility of a camera, but ultimately concluding police were lying.
"That night there was no electricity there," Shafia says. "It was pitch darkness. You remember, Tooba?"
"Yes," she replies.
The family was speaking Dari, a dialect from their native Afghanistan, but the audio recordings played in court were translated and subtitled in English.
"They say they want to see if the camera has recorded anything or not," Hamed can be heard telling his parents.
"There was no camera over there," Yahya says, adding that she had checked.
"No, had there been one there they would have checked it first thing and they would have held you to account that night," Shafia says, apparently to his wife.
Toward the end of the wiretap — one of several to be played for the jury — Hamed warns his parents that police might have bugged the car.
The jury has previously seen videos of police interviews of the family the day the bodies were discovered. All three tell police that they had checked into a motel in Kingston that night on their way home from a trip to Niagara Falls, Ont.
Zainab borrowed the car key to ostensibly get clothes out of the car, then the next morning, the four women and girls were gone and so was the car, they said. Zainab, who didn't have a licence, was eager to practise driving so she must have gone for a 2 a.m. joy ride with her sisters and Rona Amir Mohammad and had an accident, the family reasoned.
In an interrogation July 22, the day the family was arrested, Yahya tells police the three of them were at the scene that night, but that her husband must be responsible because she just heard a splash then promptly fainted. She recanted that story the next day, court heard.
Court also heard Thursday from Latif Hyderi, Yahya's uncle, who said the sisters were like "political prisoners" in their home, and Zainab wanted to "sacrifice" herself to marriage in the hope life might improve for her sisters.
But the marriage appeared to make matters worse, with the wedding degenerating into a major family drama and her father telling a relative he would have killed her if he was not away on business, Hyderi said. The marriage was annulled the next day.
"She said dear uncle, there was a lot of cruelty toward me," Latif Hyderi testified through an interpreter. "The only reason that I'm marrying in order to get the revenge of the cruelty to which I suffer from my father ... I would like to sacrifice myself for my sisters ... at least that my other sisters will get their freedom after me," he quoted Zainab as saying.
Hyderi said he appealed to Hamed, who court heard took on his father's role at home when his dad was away on business, to ease the pressure on the girls.
"They're like political prisoners," Hyderi said he told Hamed. "They go to school and brought back at home. They don't have permission to watch TV, they don't have permission to go to a party ... this is completely against humanity."