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Accused in Shafia trial saw deceased as 'diseased limb,' court told

Mohammad Shafia and his son Hamed leave a holding cell following a security concern at the Frontenac County Courthouse in Kingston, Ontario January 26, 2012.

Lars Hagberg/Reuters

All three Afghan-Canadian defendants in this city's "honour killings" trial are guilty of murder, the prosecutor told court Thursday, adding that it is no mystery as to why.

"Shafia, Tooba and Hamed decided there was a diseased limb on their family tree," Laurie Lacelle said in her closing arguments, as the jurors listened attentively and the accused stared at her stone-faced from the prisoners' box.

"And their solution was to remove the diseased limb in its entirety, and prune the tree back to the good wood."

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In a long, detailed reconstruction of events and the Crown evidence against the trio, Ms. Lacelle went through the roles that she said were played by each defendant.

"They were all in on the plan, including the plan to cover it up as an accident," the prosecutor said.

On trial, each charged with four counts of first-degree murder, are businessman Mohammad Shafia, 59, his second wife, Tooba Mohammad Yahya, 42, and their eldest son, Hamed, 21.

They stand accused of drowning sisters Zainab, Sahar and Geeti Shafia, aged 19, 17 and 13, whose bodies were found in a submerged car at a Rideau Canal lock in June, 2009. The fourth person in the vehicle was Mr. Shafia's first wife, Rona Amir Mohammad, 53, who had entered Canada illegally, posing as his cousin, but who in fact was part of a polygamous marriage.

The defendants have pleaded not guilty to what the prosecution contends was a carefully planned but clumsily executed quadruple murder committed chiefly to cleanse the family name of disgrace created by the victims' rebellious conduct, particularly Zainab's and Sahar's interest in boyfriends and dating.

Until Thursday, the three-month trial had run smoothly, but a bomb threat shortly before the 10 a.m. start shut the Frontenac County Court House down for several hours, and when proceedings finally resumed, tactical police officers were in the courtroom and the overflow crowd screened by a metal detector at the ornate front door.

Ms. Lacelle began by telling the jury that within the Shafias' Montreal household, abuse directed at the three sisters had been extensively documented by teachers and social workers, several of whom testified at the trial, and that their accounts should be believed.

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The rules were different for the males and females, she said, reflective of a traditional set of values that all three defendants shared. And for that reason, "they were each a part of the planning and preparation."

Ms. Yahya's role was "indispensable," Ms. Lacelle said, because on the night the four women died, it was she who stayed with the four victims at the Kingston Mills locks in one of the two cars in which the family was travelling. Meanwhile, her two co-accused took the three other Shafia siblings to a nearby motel and then returned to commit murder.

Ms. Yahya, the "preferred wife" in the marriage, with all the privileges accruing to that status, knew well ahead of time what her husband was planning and had ample opportunity to protect her daughters, the prosecutor said, but instead she was willing to sacrifice them.

And it was no surprise Ms. Yahya also helped kill Ms. Mohammad, whom she had long treated like a servant, the prosecutor said.

Ms. Yahya's son, Hamed, was "the boss" of the family when his father was away, and had frequently abused all three of the sisters he is now accused of killing, Ms. Lacelle said.

She listed several ways in which he allegedly helped expedite the plot: incriminating computer searches; scouting missions in which he sought suitable places to commit murder by drowning; a fabricated account of events that night that the prosecutor described as utterly implausible.

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Turning to Mr. Shafia, the ill-tempered patriarch of the family, overheard on police wiretaps referring to his dead daughters as "whores" who had betrayed the family honour, Ms. Lacelle said there was "a mountain of evidence" against him.

"He killed his daughters and he felt entitled to do so," she said.

Mr. Shafia testified at the trial on his own behalf, and proclaimed his innocence, even as he agreed that he deeply disapproved of his daughters' conduct – which he claimed to have learned about only after they died.

"Amazingly he told you he believed his daughters' behaviour brought about their deaths," Ms. Lacelle said.

Also on the wiretaps, Ms. Yahya is overheard making incriminating remarks to the effect that all three defendants were indeed at the lock that night.

And in one of her statements to police she admitted it, only to recant her statement the next day.

As to how the four victims died, it remains unclear whether they were dead when they were put into the car in which they were found, or incapacitated.

Either way, the prosecutor  said, there was more than enough time for the murders to have taken place.

What was clear was that all three defendants were culpable.

"They were all there because they all had a role to play."

Mr. Justice Robert Maranger will begin his charge to the jurors Friday morning.

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At The Globe and Mail since 1982, in assorted manifestations, chiefly crime reporter, foreign correspondent and member of the Editorial Board, Tim is now retired. More

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