Shafia's 1st wife feared he'd kill her, jury told

The first wife of the Montreal father accused of killing her and his three daughters feared for her life and begged for secrecy about her abusive living conditions, a witness testifies at the canal-deaths trial in Kingston, Ont.
Mohammad Shafia, centre, Tooba Mohammad Yahya and their son, Hamid Mohammad Shafia, centre back, arrive at the Kingston, Ont., courthouse at the start of their first-degree murder trial. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The first wife of the Montreal father accused of killing her and his three daughters feared for her life and begged for secrecy about her abusive living conditions, a witness testified Monday afternoon at the canal-deaths trial in Kingston, Ont.

The witness, a younger relative of Rona Amir Mohammad, said Mohammad talked about how her husband, Mohammad Shafia, beat her in front of the children.

A photo sent to the media by a purported family member is said to show the wedding of Rona Amir Mohammad, left, and Mohammad Shafia in Afghanistan circa 1980. She later told a relative how she was beaten and feared for her life, a court heard Monday. (Canadian Press)

"She was shivering. She was afraid," said the witness, who cannot be identified because of a court-ordered publication ban.

"'I'm just fed up with my life. I ask God to finish my life. I want to be in an accident,'" the witness testified Mohammad told her.

Mohammad's despondent prayers were answered: She was pulled from the Rideau Canal in Kingston on June 30, 2009, along with her husband's daughters Zainab Shafia, 19, Sahar Shafia, 17, and Geeti Shafia, 13. 

The Crown alleges that Mohammad Shafia, his second wife, Tooba Mohammad Yahya, and their son, Hamed Mohammad Shafia, killed them. The accused have pleaded not guilty to four counts each of first-degree murder.

The witness also testified Monday that Rona Mohammad told her Shafia had threatened to kill daughter Zainab for dishonouring the family by seeking help from social services.

Drowning victims not drugged, doctor says

Earlier in the day, a pathologist testified that the three sisters and their dad's first wife had no signs of drugs or alcohol in their bodies after they were found submerged in a black Nissan Sentra in the canal.

Forensic pathologist Christopher Milroy told the Ontario Superior Court jury that after extensive testing for such substances as cyanide, cocaine, antifreeze and carbon monoxide, no toxins were found in their systems.

In his first police interrogation, the day after his daughters’ bodies were found, Mohammad Shafia suggested that they might have been drugged and that Zainab Shafia had taken the car keys to go on a joyride.

Milroy, a University of Ottawa professor, also said he believed the four members of the Montreal-based Shafia family died by drowning. But he said he couldn't determine whether they were already unconscious when they plunged into the canal, nor whether they might have been drowned elsewhere and then dumped in the canal. 

Milroy testified, too, about bruising on the heads of three of the four deceased, saying he was unable to determine what caused the internal bleeding or whether the victims would have been rendered unconscious by whatever prompted it.

Graphic photos

When graphic photographs of the injuries were brought forward in court, Tooba Mohammad Yahya's lawyer asked that she be allowed to leave the room for the ensuing testimony, and Judge Robert Maranger agreed. Mohammad Shafia convulsed in quiet sobs as the autopsy photographs of his dead daughters and wife were shown.

Originally from Afghanistan, the Shafia family lived in Montreal's St-Leonard borough. Court has heard the older teenaged girls wore western style-clothing, refused to wear the hijab and kept secret boyfriends.

The Crown alleges the girls' father, mother and brother killed them because they believed the three had tainted the Muslim family's honour.

The prosecution is expected to wrap up its case in the coming days, with its final witness slated to be a University of Toronto expert on so-called honour killings.