Guilty verdict in polygamous 'honour' killing case
A Canadian jury has found an Afghan father, his wife and their son guilty of killing three teenage sisters and another wife in what the judge described as "cold-blooded, shameful murders" resulting from a "twisted concept of honour".
The jury took 15 hours to find Mohammad Shafia, 58; his wife Tooba Yahya, 42; and their son Hamed, 21, each guilty of four counts of first-degree murder in a case that shocked and riveted Canadians from coast to coast.
After the verdict was read, the three defendants again declared their innocence in the killings of sisters Zainab, 19, Sahar 17, and Geeti, 13, as well as Rona Amir Mohammad, 52, Shafia's childless first wife in a polygamous marriage.
Their bodies were found on June 30, 2009, in a car submerged in a canal in Kingston, Ontario, where the family had stopped for the night on their way home to Montreal from Niagara Falls, Ontario.
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 going online. Shafia's first wife was living with him and his second wife. The polygamous relationship, if revealed, could have resulted in their deportation.
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 drowned their victims elsewhere on the site, placed their bodies in the car and pushed it into the canal.
Defence lawyers said the evidence suggested that the deaths were accidental. They said the Nissan car accidentally plunged into the canal after the eldest daughter, Zainab, took it for a joy ride.
After the jury returned the verdicts, Mohammad Shafia, speaking through a translator, said: "We are not criminal, we are not murderer, we didn't commit the murder and this is unjust."
His weeping wife, Tooba, also declared the verdict unjust, saying: "I am not a murderer, and I am a mother, a mother."
Their son, Hamed, speaking in English said: "I did not drown my sisters anywhere."
But Judge Robert Maranger was unmoved, saying the evidence clearly supported their conviction for "the planned and deliberate murder of four members of your family".
"It is difficult to conceive of a more despicable, more heinous crime ... the apparent reason behind these cold-blooded, shameful murders was that the four completely innocent victims offended your completely twisted concept of honour ... that has absolutely no place in any civilised society."
The family had left Afghanistan in 1992 and lived in Pakistan, Australia and Dubai before settling in Canada in 2007. Shafia, a wealthy businessman, married Yahya because his first wife could not have children.
The months leading up to the deaths were not happy ones in the Shafia household, according to evidence presented at trial. Zainab, the oldest daughter, was forbidden to attend school for a year because she had a young Pakistani-Canadian boyfriend, and she fled to a shelter, terrified of her father, the court was told.
The prosecution presented wire taps and mobile phone records from the Shafia family in court. In one phone conversation, the father says his daughters "betrayed us immensely".
The wiretaps, which capture Shafia spewing vitriol 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.
But defence lawyers argued that at no point in the intercepts do the accused say they drowned the victims.