KINGSTON, Ont. - All of the evidence has now been heard in a trial of three people accused of killing half of their family over honour, and next week the jury will start sifting through a mountain of documents and parsing complex testimony to determine their fate.
The final witness, a linguistic and Afghani cultural expert, testified Wednesday about the use of expletives in the Dari language and various roles in families from Afghanistan.
Three members of the Shafia family, who left Afghanistan in 1992 and lived in Pakistan, Dubai and Australia before moving to Montreal in 2007, are charged with killing four female relatives — three daughters and a wife. The Crown alleges it was a so-called honour killing.
Patriarch Mohammad Shafia was caught on wiretaps secretly recorded by police after the deaths cursing his daughters as "treacherous" and "whores," angry they were dating. He said, "May the devil (defecate) on their graves," and that if his daughters came back to life he would cut them in pieces, court heard.
Expert witness Nabi Misdaq testified that Dari speakers from Afghanistan often curse about, and not directly to, people, but that they are just expressions that they don't mean literally. When translating such expressions to English, the effect of such swear words are sometimes amplified and sometimes lessened, he said.
The expression in Dari, "May the devil (defecate) on their graves," is comparable in English to "To hell with them," Misdaq said.
Shafia, 58, his wife Tooba Yahya, 42, and their son Hamed, 21, have each pleaded not guilty to four counts of first-degree murder. They're accused of killing Shafia sisters Zainab, 19, Sahar, 17, and Geeti, 13, as well as Shafia's first wife in a polygamous marriage, Rona Amir Mohammad, 52.
Their bodies were found June 30, 2009, in a car submerged in a canal in Kingston, where the family had stopped on their way home to Montreal from a trip to Niagara Falls.
With the end of Misdaq's testimony, the jury has now heard from 58 witnesses and has seen 162 exhibits over about 10 weeks. They will begin to parse the evidence both for and against the accused in deliberations likely to begin next week.
Closing submissions from all three defence lawyers and the Crown are scheduled to start Monday, and Judge Robert Maranger told the jury he hopes to give them their final instructions Wednesday, after which they would retire to start considering the case.
Some of the most dramatic testimony has come in recent weeks, as the defence lawyers called both Shafia, Yahya and a surviving son of the family, who can't be identified, to the stand.
The family members refuted essentially all of the Crown evidence, with Yahya likening the Crown's theory of what happened the night in question to a bedtime story, conjured out of thin air.
Shafia and Yahya's testimony, as well as that of Shafia's brother, was marked by emotional outbursts.
"I'm not a killer," Shafia told Crown attorney Laurie Lacelle, his voice rising as she grilled him about statements on the wiretaps about honour, such as "Nothing is more dear to me than my honour" and "There's no value of life without honour."
"My honour is important for me, but ... to kill someone you can't regain your reputation and honour. Respected lady, you should know that."
Yahya told Crown attorney Gerard Laarhuis, in frequently tearful testimony that spanned six days, "We are not murderers."
"This crime, we will never do such a crime," she said. "Don't ever tell me such a thing. I am a mother. If you are a mother then you could have known that what's the heart of a mother for a child ... Don't ever tell me that I killed my children, never.''
Through its numerous witnesses, the Crown painted a picture of a family in turmoil, unable to control three rebellious daughters, and an ever-widening gulf between Rona Mohammad and her husband and his second wife, a gulf deliberately created by Yahya, it's alleged.
The family says the deaths were an accident, the result of Zainab, an inexperienced and unlicensed driver taking the others on a 2 a.m. joy ride. The Crown alleges it was a carefully orchestrated plot to murder the four, and that all were dead before the car was pushed into the water.
Police and technical experts testified the car had to travel through such tight spots to get in the canal that the apparent accident seemed, in fact, to be deliberate. Court heard testimony that it appeared as though none of the four people tried to escape the car through the open driver's window. The trial heard from a Kingston motel manager, whose recollection of that night appears to contradict the Shafias' timeline.
A police computer analyst testified about searches done on the family's laptop inquiring whether a prisoner can have control over their real estate and, "where to commit a murder." The court heard from teachers, child protection workers and police about reports from the girls that they were afraid of their father and brother and wanted to leave the family home.
A pathologist testified that the cause of death for all four was drowning, though he can't conclude if they drowned in the canal where they were found, and that toxicology tests turned up nothing untoward. Three of the four, all except Sahar, had bruising on their heads, he testified.
One of the most interesting witnesses was Moosa Hadi, an engineering student born in Afghanistan who originally offered to be a translator for the accused and their lawyers. Shafia then hired him as a private investigator of sorts, and Hadi developed a fervent belief in the family's innocence. However, he was called as a Crown witness. Hadi received the same police disclosure as the lawyers.
Four months after Shafia, Yahya and Hamed were arrested, Hadi made an audio recording of a jailhouse interview between him and Hamed. In it, he elicits a story from Hamed about what the young man, then 18, said really happened.
Hamed said he had seen his sisters and Rona leave from the motel in the car and he was concerned for their safety so he followed in the family's other vehicle, a Lexus. They ended up at the locks, where he rear-ended them accidentally and urged them to turn around, he said. As he was picking up some pieces of broken head light, he heard a splash, he said. The car had plunged into the water.
So he sounded the horn of the Lexus once as a call for help, then took a rope from the trunk and dangled it in the water. 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, never mentioning his dead family members.
It's not known yet if all three defence lawyers will adopt Hamed's story in closing arguments as their theory of what actually transpired.
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