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Christie Blatchford: Numbers didn’t add up for ‘honour killing’ accused
Lars Hagberg for Postmedia News
Mohammad Shafia is charged with first degree murder
Christie Blatchford Oct 25, 2011 – 7:54 PM ET | Last Updated: Oct 26, 2011 10:17 AM ET
KINGSTON, Ont. — Just after half his family was either allegedly murdered or at the least tragically dead in a bizarre accident, Mohammad Shafia was still looking for a deal.
“He was asking could he get a discount,” said Robert Miller, the manager of the Kingston East Motel where some of the Shafia clan – those who weren’t dead, that is — were then staying.
“’Can’t you give me a better price?’” Mr. Miller remembered him saying, and his own reply: “No.”
Mr. Miller was testifying Tuesday at the first-degree murder trial of the 58-year-old Mr. Shafia, his second wife Tooba Mohammad Yahya, 41, and their 21-year-old son Hamed. All are pleading not guilty.
He said it was about noon on June 30, 2009, when Mr. Shafia and Hamed showed up at the motel office to say they’d decided to keep their two rooms for another night. The two had checked in just hours earlier, about 2 a.m., and after a couple of reminders that checkout was 11 a.m., they’d apparently decided to stay – but not without Mr. Shafia first trying to strike a bargain.
Hours earlier, at 9 a.m. that same day, the bodies of four members of the sprawling family – three teenage daughters and Mr. Shafia’s first wife – were pulled from a black Nissan found at the bottom of the Kingston Mills locks not far away.
Alex Tavshunsky for Postmedia News
Mohammad Shafia, left, his son Hamed Shafia and his wife Tooba Mohammad Yahya sit in the dock in Kingston.
Though Mr. Shafia, Ms. Yahya and Hamed all claimed at first they knew the four were missing only when they woke up that day, Ms. Yahya admitted on the day of their arrest the following month that they had all been present at the Kingston Mills locks when the Nissan went into the water there.
If that’s true, that means, at minimum, when Mr. Shafia was attempting to get his bargain from Mr. Miller, he knew his daughters and first wife were at the bottom of the locks.
Found in the submerged Nissan were Rona Mohammad Amir, Mr. Shafia’s first – and infertile – wife, and the couple’s daughters, Zainab, 19, Sahar, 17 and Geeti, 13. Mr. Miller, of course, had no way of knowing of the grim discovery at the locks. But he was taken aback by how Mr. Shafia and son had reacted to something he asked when they woke him early that morning and asked about getting a couple of rooms.
He asked his usual question, standard at every hotel and motel desk in the world: “How many people would there be in the rooms?”
But to the two men standing in front of him, the question was a real puzzler.
At first, Mr. Miller told Ontario Superior Court Judge Robert Maranger and the jurors, the men “said there would be six.
“Then the younger gentleman said there might be nine.
“I said, well, how many people is there? And they settled on six.”
The math – however elementary – is key, if not revealing.
As prosecutor Laurie Lacelle told the jurors in her opening statement last week, it’s unclear when the Nissan with its cargo of women went into the water. The last cell phone transmission police tracked was at 1:36 a.m.; the bodies weren’t discovered until about 9 a.m.
So it’s not known whether the four females were dead, whether by design or accident, when Mr. Shafia and Hamed checked in about 2 a.m., or if they died later.
In total, the intact family numbered 10 — Mr. Shafia, the two wives and seven children.
Subtract the four who perished, and the number of family members purportedly needing rooms that night would be six.
Rona Amir Mohammad, 53, who was found dead with her daughters Zainab Shafia, 17, Sahar Shafia, 15 and Geeti Shafia, 13. Their bodies were found on the morning of June 30, 2009, in a Nissan Sentra submerged in the Kingston Mills locks.
The “nine” mentioned by Hamed may have stemmed from the fact that he was planning to drive back to Montreal, where the family lived, that night, and, according to what the trio told police, did go back.