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Shafia defence lawyers have one day to convince jury

Hamed Shafia and Tooba Mohammad Yahya arrive at the Frontenac County Court House in Kingston on Monday, Jan. 23, 2012.

STRINGER/CANADA/LARS HAGBERG/REUTERS

The three defence lawyers in Kingston's "honour killings" murder trial, who will deliver their closing arguments at the historic Frontenac County Court House (CCT) on Tuesday, face a formidable task.

And they don't have much time to perform it. After three months of often-damning evidence, the lawyers have one day between them to persuade the jury their Afghan-Canadian clients are innocent of the alleged crime of wiping out almost half their family. In several key ways, the defendants changed their stories before and after they were arrested in July, 2009.

On Wednesday, the prosecution will make its final submissions. On Thursday will follow Mr. Justice Robert Maranger's charge to the jury, outlining the accepted facts of the case and explaining the law.

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If Judge Maranger's remarks continue into the next morning, as often happens in complex, multiple-indictment trials, the seven-woman, five-man, mostly white jury will begin its deliberations Friday afternoon.

First up Tuesday, in line with the order of the indictment, will be Kingston lawyer Peter Kemp, acting for businessman Mohammad Shafia, 59. Then the jury will hear from David Crowe, also of Kingston, representing Ms. Shafia's second wife, Tooba Mohammad Yahya, 42.

Last to speak will be lawyer Patrick McCann of Ottawa, representing the couple's eldest son and co-accused, Hamed Shafia, 21.

Both Mr. Shafia and Ms. Yahya testified at length in their own defence; the latter was six days in the witness box. Hamed Shafia, however, did not, and Mr. McCann presented no evidence on his behalf.

Each defendant is charged with four counts of first-degree murder. They are 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, and of then staging a clumsy accident.

The fourth person in the car was Mr. Shafia's long-time first wife, Rona Amir Mohammad, 53, who had entered Canada illegally, posing as his cousin. As such, she represented a possible threat to the family's legal status as immigrants.

But the chief motive for committing murder, it's alleged, was a perverse desire to cleanse the Shafia family name and reputation, supposedly stained by the disobedient conduct of the teens, particularly the dating habits of the eldest two.

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The Shafias came to Quebec in 2007 and comprised 10 members: Mr. Shafia, his two wives and his seven children – five sisters and two brothers, all born to Ms. Yahya.

All 10 were returning to their Montreal home from a short holiday in Niagara Falls, travelling in two vehicles, a Nissan and a Lexus SUV. As the family stayed at a Kingston motel overnight, the four victims disappeared, and the three defendants told police the next day the four had taken the Nissan from the motel without permission, for a late-night joyride.

The prosecution thesis, however, is that the four women never made it to the motel that night, but rather were drowned at the Kingston Mills lock, their bodies placed in the Nissan, which was then shoved into the lock by the Lexus.

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About the Author

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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