KINGSTON, Ont. - A woman accused of killing her three daughters and her husband's other wife over family honour indicated Wednesday she believes her eldest son witnessed the four plunging to their certain deaths, but didn't call police.
For this, Tooba Yahya said, she is "upset" with her son.
Yahya, 42, her husband Mohammad Shafia, 58, and their son Hamed, 21, are on trial in this eastern Ontario city, charged with murder in the deaths of Hamed's three sisters and Shafia's first wife in a polygamous marriage. The Crown alleges the June 30, 2009, deaths were so-called honour killings, and that the family staged it to look like an accident.
The three accused claimed from the start in police interviews that the deaths must have been a joy ride gone wrong, because the eldest daughter, Zainab, borrowed the car keys from her parents at a Kingston motel around 2 a.m. The Crown alleges that story is false, that the four were killed before the rest of the family checked into the motel.
But several months after their July 2009 arrests, Hamed told a private investigator a new version of events.
What really happened, he said, was that he saw the four get into the car at the motel, so he hopped in the family's Lexus SUV to follow them, concerned for their safety because Zainab didn't have a licence. They ended up at the locks of a canal, where he accidentally rear-ended them, he said. He was starting to pick up the pieces of the SUV's headlight when the car, trying to turn around, drove over the ledge into the canal, he said.
Hamed said he sounded the horn of the Lexus one time to signal for help, then dangled a rope into the water to see if anyone grabbed hold of it. Seeing no signs of life, he drove home to Montreal and told no one of the deaths.
This is not what the Crown alleges happened — this new story, they note, came after all the police evidence was disclosed to the private investigator, who had developed a fervent belief in the family's innocence. But Yahya indicated on the stand Wednesday she is adopting it as fact.
"I am upset with Hamed and my heart is bleeding," she said. "He should have told me how my children's death was."
The Crown alleges the pieces of headlight, a key piece of evidence at the trial, were at the scene because the car did not drop smoothly into the canal, but got hung up on the ledge, and the SUV was used to push it the rest of the way.
Yahya's testimony, that she believes her son was present for the deaths of his sisters and the woman who was like a mother to him, came on a day of intense, pointed and methodical cross-examination by Crown attorney Gerard Laarhuis.
Yahya has been on the stand for three full days, and cross-examination is set to continue Thursday. The duration of the trial was apparent Wednesday, with the plodding exchanges between Laarhuis and Yahya, an exhausted-looking jury, about a dozen defence objections and even a sharp retort from the otherwise amiable judge.
The trial, which started Oct. 20, is expected to wrap up some time this month.
Yahya, Shafia and Hamed have each pleaded not guilty to four counts of first-degree murder.