Bomb threat delays 'honor' murder trial in Canada

Story highlights

  • A bomb threat delayed the trial Thursday morning
  • The three-month-long trial is on the verge of going to the jury
  • A father, his wife and his son are accused of killing four other members of their family
The trial of three people accused of killing four members of their family was on course to be in the jury's hands by the end of the week before being delayed Thursday morning by a bomb threat.
Mohammed Shafia, 58; his wife, Tooba Mohammad Yahya, 42; and their son, Hamed, 21, are charged with four counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Shafia's three teenage daughters and his first wife in his polygamous marriage.
The court in Kingston was cleared after the threat. Officials gave the all-clear after a search and the trial was set to resume in the afternoon. It was not immediately clear how the delay would affect the trial schedule.
The family members were all recent immigrants to Canada from Afghanistan.
The three Shafia sisters -- Zainab, 19, Sahar, 17, and Geeti, 13 -- along with Rona Amir Mohammad, 50, --were found dead inside a car that plunged into the Rideau Canal in Kingston on June 30, 2009.
Prosecutors allege the girls' father, mother and brother all plotted to kill the four women in an "honor" murder. Investigators claim that hours of wiretapped conversations reveal a premeditated plan to punish rebellious, Westernized daughters and their permissive advocate, Rona.
Shafia and Yahya admitted on the stand that they were upset with Zainab for running off to marry a Pakistani man they hated, that Sahar wore revealing clothes and had secret boyfriends, and little Geeti was failing in school and calling social workers to get her out of a home in turmoil.
Prosecutors are trying to convince the jury that under instructions from his father, Hamed Shafia used the family Lexus to ram the other family car carrying the women into the canal. The shattered headlight on the Lexus, they claim, matches the damage on the rear bumper of the family Nissan in which the women were found dead.
Investigators also believe the victims might have died before they hit the water, because they were unable to escape despite their seat belts being unbuckled and the car being submerged in just 7 feet of water.
During some of the most dramatic testimony in this three-month-long trial, Shafia testified, "My children did a lot of cruelty toward me," as he wept openly on the stand. He went on to say he believed his children "betrayed" him by dating and he did not hide his anger, saying a father would never expect that kind of behavior from this daughters.
In taking the stand, Shafia swore to tell the truth on the Quran and he again invoked the holy book to say Islam does not condone killing people to preserve a family's honor.
In a direct response to a question from prosecutor Laurie Lacelle, Shafia said, "To kill someone, you can't regain your respect and honor. Respected lady, you should know that. In our religion, a person who kills his wife or daughter, there is nothing more dishonorable . How is it possible that someone would do that to their children, respected lady?"
"You might do it," Lacelle calmly replied, "if you thought they were whores." Shafia had used that term in a conversation captured by wiretaps.
Investigators have played hours of the wiretap recordings in court, alleging many conversations involving the three suspects prove they were plotting murder.
In some of the most shocking conversations, Shafia launched into a rant about his daughters' behavior.
"I say to myself, you did well. Would they come back to life a hundred times, you should so the same again," he says. And in another played in court and translated from the Afghan language Dari, he says, "May the devil defecate on their on their graves! This is what a daughter should be? Would a daughter be such a whore?"
Shafia and his lawyers tried to explain that his shocking words are traditional expressions in Dari that should not be translated literally.
But the jury also heard from an expert witness on honor murders -- a term CNN is using in the interest of clarity rather than the more common "honor killings" because the latter phrase does not properly describe the alleged crime.
That witness, University of Toronto professor Shahrzad Mojab, said that in some families, honor is worth more than life.
In an interview with CNN, Mojab said that many times, honor crimes are calculated acts that involve more than one family member.
"There is a very important difference between honor killing and violence against women in the form of domestic violence. It is plotted, it is premeditated." Mojab said.
"What we need to understand is that the male power and the male desire for the control of the woman's body and the woman's sexuality -- the honor resides in that sort of understanding and the ownership of women's body and sexuality," he said. "So when that is being presented in a way that is not acceptable to the social norm, then the only way the honor can be restored is by purifying that. And the purification is through blood."