11/30/2011 12:43 EST

Honour-Killing Trial: Ricardo Ruano, Sahar Shafia's Boyfriend, Believed Girl Was Being Abused

KINGSTON, Ont. - A Montreal teenager was convinced her Muslim parents would kill her if they found out she was dating, her drowning trial heard Wednesday.

Still, Sahar Shafia, 17, took the risk because she felt so strongly about her boyfriend, Ricardo Ruano, his aunt Erma Diaz Medina testified.

"She told me she would be a dead woman if her parents learned she was going out with Ricardo," Medina told court.

"If her parents learned about it, they would kill her."

Medina said Shafia was absolutely serious about the threat, and mentioned it in conversation several times.

Shafia and Ruano, now 23, began their relationship in early 2009 and it quickly grew intense.

The couple even talked about getting married and going to his native Honduras to escape her family, which had immigrated from Afghanistan, court heard.

"She loved Ricardo," Medina told the seven-woman, five-man jury.

"She told me that she would love him till death."

Two months after that conversation, Shafia was dead, her cellphone full of innocent-looking pictures of the doting couple.

Shafia, along with her two sisters Geeti, 13, and Zainab, 19, were found drowned along with their father's first wife, Rona Amir Mohammad, 52, on June 30, 2009, inside a car in a canal near Kingston, Ont.

Shafia's father, Afghan businessman Mohammad Shafia, 58, second wife, Tooba Yahya, 41, and their son Hamed, 20, have pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in the deaths.

Ruano told the Ontario Superior Court trial that he once saw obvious bruises on Shafia's arm and leg but didn't believe they were accidental.

Shafia insisted she had fallen at school and hurt herself, but it looked more like someone had hit her, Ruano testified.

Under cross-examination, Ruano conceded no bruises were visible on Shafia's bare arms in several pictures of her shown in court.

Ruano also testified Sahar initially introduced herself as Natasha and wanted to keep their romance private.

She did not talk about her family situation in any detail, he said.

"She never mentioned any big problem," Ruano testified through a Spanish interpreter.

In other evidence Wednesday, a youth services worker was so alarmed by what Sahar Shafia said about her abusive household that she recommended immediate intervention.

Evelyn Benayoun said she spoke to the teen in May 2008 by phone after her school contacted a Montreal child protection agency.

"Sahar told me that she wanted to die — she couldn't take it any more," Benayoun told court.

"She was feeling isolated, emotionally rejected by her parents. She was wishing to die and didn't know how to kill herself."

Shafia told Benayoun that she felt ostracized by her family.

While the teen also complained about physical abuse at the hands of her brother, she was most distraught that her mother wasn't talking to her, court heard.

"She was very upset about that," Benayoun said.

Shafia was also terrified her parents would discover she had talked to the agency "because she was not allowed to share family information with outsiders," the witness said.

Ultimately, however, the agency closed its file after Shafia changed her story, court has heard previously.

The Crown alleges the accused killed Shafia and her siblings because their relationships with boys had dishonoured the family.

The accused say the deaths were an accident.

The trial resumes Monday with the prosecution's last witness, a cultural expert on so-called "honour" killings.

By Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press

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