KINGSTON, Ont. - A young man accused of killing his three sisters and the first of his father's two wives is only guilty of being "stupid" and "morally blameworthy," but neither he nor his co-accused parents deserve to be in this "Kafkaesque" scenario, court heard Wednesday.
Hamed Shafia, 21, and his parents Mohammad Shafia, 58, and Tooba Yahya, 42, are on trial for four counts each of first-degree murder, accused by the Crown of murdering their four female relatives in a so-called honour killing. They have pleaded not guilty.
Hamed's lawyer told the jury Wednesday in his closing statement that the only reasonable conclusion they can come to is that the deaths of sisters Zainab, 19, Sahar, 17, and Geeti, 13, as well as Rona Amir Mohammad, 52, were a tragic accident witnessed by his client.
"Hamed is guilty of being stupid, morally blameworthy, but other than that, he was not responsible for the girls' death, nor were his parents and (it's) time to put an end to this Kafkaesque 2 1/2 years they've been going through since their arrest," Patrick McCann told the jury.
The four bodies were found June 30, 2009, in a car submerged at the bottom of the locks of a canal in Kingston, where the Montreal family had stopped for the night on their way home from a trip to Niagara Falls, Ont. Shafia, Yahya and Hamed all told police that Zainab had borrowed the car keys from them at the motel, and that was the last they saw of her. She must have gone on a joy ride with the other three, they said, and as an inexperienced and unlicensed driver, she somehow ended up in the canal.
Four months after the family's July 22, 2009, arrests, Hamed told a university student hired on the sly by Shafia as a private investigator that he was there when the car went in the canal. He said he had followed them from the motel as a concerned brother. He rear-ended them near the scene, he said, and while he was picking up pieces of headlight he heard a splash and ran to the edge of the canal, dropping some of the pieces there.
He called their names and dangled a rope in the water, but seeing no signs of life he eventually drove through the night home to Montreal without alerting police, he said.
It was a terrible decision not to call 911, McCann said, but he was scared. When he tried to tell the truth later on the police didn't believe him.
But the Crown alleges that story is a "complete fabrication" cooked up by Hamed in an attempt to explain the evidence.
The Crown says the girls and Rona were dead, or at least incapacitated, before they went into the canal. It's been suggested by the defence that the Crown theory is the four people were drowned in one of the other areas of open water around the scene then placed in the car.
McCann, as well as the lawyers for Shafia and Yahya who addressed the jury Tuesday, scoffed at that notion.
"How would it be done?" McCann said. "Just the practicality of doing it, it's implausible. It's absolutely unthinkable almost that you could do that. Four different people, quietly like lambs to the slaughter ... These women, they weren't lambs going to the slaughter."
The Crown alleges the accused tried to get the car to go into the water under its own power, but it got hung up on the ledge, so the family's other car was used to push it in.
McCann took the jury through other interpretations of the evidence, including that marks on the bottom of the car that the Crown points to as evidence it got hung up on the canal edge, are really from a rocky outcropping at the scene. McCann suggested the car took quite a different route than the one put forward by the Crown.
There is no piece of evidence that disproves Hamed's story, McCann said.
Crown attorney Laurie Lacelle disagreed in the beginning of her closing arguments, which she will conclude Thursday. Hamed's story cannot explain why the seats were reclined all the way, Lacelle said. It wouldn't be natural to drive like that, she told the jury.
What's more likely, is that the soon-to-be victims were sleeping in the car around 2 a.m., waiting with their mother, as she testified, while Hamed and Shafia were booking a hotel room, Lacelle said. When Hamed and Shafia returned to the locks — though Yahya denied this is where they were waiting — the girls and Rona were still sleeping and the seats were still reclined when they were killed, Lacelle suggested.
"After murdering four individuals, Shafia, Tooba and Hamed could hardly be expected to re-adjust the seats to accord with the accidental driving mishap that they wanted to use to explain the deaths," Lacelle told the jury. "It's just one more detail they didn't think about."
All three defence lawyers also took issue with the notion that the four deaths were the result of a mass, so-called honour killing. The evidence is simply not there to suggest that motive, McCann said.
He went through the evidence of the girls' supposed misbehaviour, including dating boys and not wearing hijabs, that the Crown has pointed to as motive and noted a few points where it has been proven one of the girls lied.
"These kids were just like most teenagers: pushing the envelope, trying to get as much freedom as they could, trying to get their own way," McCann said.
"That's teenage life and inevitably there are problems at home when that sort of thing is going on ... That is what the Crown is presenting to you, ladies and gentlemen, as evidence that this was an honour killing, that these girls were dishonouring the family and therefore had to be killed ... That is really quite preposterous."
Lacelle took the jury through all the evidence the Crown says points to an honour-based motive for killing the girls and Rona, whose values clashed with those of the three accused and who were becoming increasingly difficult to control. But she told the jury it is not their task to determine whether these were honour killings, just if they are satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that the three accused planned and carried out the murders of Zainab, Sahar, Geeti and Rona.