Afghan immigrant accused of killing former wife and three daughters tells court he was a caring father.
A jury in Canada has found three members of one family guilty of the 2009 so-called “honour killing” deaths of four female relatives.
The court in Kingston, Ontario, convicted Mohammad Shafia, 58, his wife, Tooba Mahommad Yahya, 42, and their son Hamed, 21, on Sunday of first-degree murder, a verdict that carries an automatic sentence of life in prison without chance of parole for 25 years.
The three defendants were found guilty of the deaths of the couple’s three daughters, Zainab, 19, Sahar, 17, and Geeti, 13, and Rona Amir Mohammad, 52, Shafia’s first wife in a polygamous marriage, after a four-month-long trial that saw dozens of witnesses testify.
Judge Robert Maranger described the killings as “cold-blooded, shameful murders” resulting from a “twisted concept of honour”.
Plea of innocence
Speaking after the verdict was announced, Shafia and his wife maintained their innocence.
“We are not criminal, we are not murderers, we didn’t commit the murder and this is unjust,” Shafia said.
His weeping second wife, Tooba said, “I am not a murderer, and I am a mother, a mother.”
But Maranger was unmoved, saying the evidence clearly supported their conviction for “the planned and deliberate murder of four members of [their] family”.
Al Jazeera’s Daniel Lak, reporting from outside the court, said the case had captivated the country’s attention and that there had been a great deal of emotion in the courtroom as the verdict was delivered.
“Hamed Shafia, the son, visibly sagged when he learned from the judge that he was going to serve, along with his father and mother, a life sentence, 25 years without parole,” our correspondent said.
He said the judge called the case a twisted crime and described it as a crime based on a sick notion of honour that was based on the domination of women, which had no place in civilised society.
The bodies of the women were found on June, 2009, in a car submerged in a canal in Kingston, where the family had stopped for the night on their way home to Montreal from Niagara Falls, Ontario.
The prosecution alleged it was a case of premeditated murder, staged to look like an accident after it was carried out.
Prosecutors said the defendants allegedly killed the three teenage sisters because they dishonoured the family by defying its disciplinarian rules on dress, dating, socialising and accessing the internet.
While polygamy is a crime in Canada, Shafia, a wealthy businessman, was married to and living with the two women at the time and had married Yahya because his first wife could not have children.
The family left Afghanistan in 1992 and lived in Pakistan, Australia and Dubai before settling in Canada in 2007.
Court testimony told of an abusive home gripped by fear and where the victims received frequent death threats, in part over the fact that the two eldest daughters had boyfriends without their father’s approval.
The prosecution presented wire taps and mobile phone records from the Shafia family in court to support their “honour killing” theory.
The wiretaps, in which Shafia is captured speaking about his dead daughters, calling them treacherous and whores and invoking the devil to defecate on their graves, were a focal point of the trial.
“There can be no betrayal, no treachery, no violation more than this,” Shafia is reported to have said on one recording. “Even if they hoist me up onto the gallows… nothing is more dear to me than my honour.”
Defence lawyers maintained the deaths were accidental and a result of the eldest daughter going on a joyride, and said they would appeal the verdict.
They contended Zainab took the car in the middle of the night while the family slept at a Kingston motel overnight, and argued that at no point in the intercepts did the accused say they had drowned the victims.