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Family murder trial delayed after one accused becomes ill

The trial of a Montreal family accused of killing three teenage sisters and a woman over family honour was adjourned indefinitely Thursday because one of the accused has a medical emergency.

Tooba Mohammad Yahya, 41, her husband Mohammad Shafia, 58, and their son, Hamed Mohammad Shafia, 20, are each charged with four counts of first-degree murder.

The judge told the jury Thursday that one of the accused had become ill. While he didn’t specify which accused is sick, Mohammad Shafia was the only one of the three not in the courtroom.

“One of the accused has taken ill,” Judge Robert Maranger told the jury. “It was a medical emergency, a fairly serious one.”

The lawyers will meet with the judge on Tuesday for an update on the medical situation, Maranger told the jury, adding he would update them by Wednesday.

“I can’t say exactly how long the delay is going to be,” Maranger said. “Obviously we want to keep it at a minimum … this is a completely unforeseen event.”

Shafia, Yahya and Hamed are accused of killing three teenage Shafia sisters, Zainab, 19, Sahar, 17, and Geeti, 13, along with Rona Amir Mohammad, 50, who were found dead inside a submerged car in the Rideau Canal in June 2009.

Mohammad was one of Shafia’s two wives in a polygamous marriage.

When the trial stopped for the day Wednesday, the jury had watched about two-thirds of a six-hour interrogation video of Yahya. She sobs loudly for several minutes while looking at pictures of her children, holding them to her face. In court Shafia appeared to break down in tears while watching his wife weep on the video.

RCMP Insp. Shahin Mehdizadeh, who was brought in to conduct the interview in Farsi, goes over Yahya’s story with her piece by piece, pointing out evidence to the contrary and accusing her of lying to him.

The Crown alleges the family used their Lexus SUV to push the Nissan into the canal with the girls and women inside, court has heard. The Crown alleges the family believed the girls were dishonouring them by having boyfriends.

The family had been on their way back to Montreal from a trip to Niagara Falls, Ont., and checked into a motel in Kingston in the early morning hours of June 30 after being on the road since 6 p.m. They told police that Zainab, who didn’t have a driver’s licence, took the car keys so she could go for a joy ride. The car ending up in the canal was a terrible accident, they suggested.

“This is not an accident, madam,” Mehdizadeh says. “You know what has happened here … I don’t want the lies. I don’t want the lie that Zainab came and took the key and after that I didn’t see her.”

Eventually, Yahya starts changing her story, bit by bit, but begins by asking that Mehdizadeh not tell her husband.

She admits the three of them were at the canal that night, and that the four dead people never made it to the motel. Yahya tries to pin it on Shafia, saying she and Hamed were walking by the canal and they heard a splash, ran over and saw the car in the water. It was at that point that she fainted, she said.