KINGSTON, Ont. — In the morning it was starkly ghoulish, with Hamed Shafia, in a four-hour-long interview on the day of his arrest for murder, livening up only when the officer interrogating him brandished pictures of his dead sisters and his father's first wife.
Can I . . . ?" he asked, alertly eyeing the photographs in Kingston Police Sgt. Mike Boyles' hand.
"No, you know what?" Boyles replied. "Why should you look at them if you can't look at me and tell the truth . . . Why would they (meaning Hamed) want to see them (the dead women) like this? You can't even tell the truth of how they ended up like that."
Nonetheless, Boyles handed over the pictures, which showed the bodies of two of Hamed's three sisters — Zainab, Sahar and Geeti — and his father's first wife Rona Amir Mohammad, as they were recovered from a black Nissan found submerged at the Kingston Mills locks on June 30, 2009.
"So it's the time when they remove them?" asked Hamed, who is now 20 and then just 18.
"Yeah, this is them being brought out of the water, yeah Hamed," Boyles said.
"How come she's bleeding?" Hamed asked. He didn't appear to be disturbed, merely interested, as if he were a college student on a tour of a morgue.
Boyles explained, not unkindly, that the girl wasn't bleeding, but that what he was seeing was the result of blood pooling in the body, as it does at death.
"There are only two sisters there," Hamed said, obviously keen on seeing the third picture as well.
Yeah," Boyles said, "they only have pictures of two."
Boyles was the second investigator to have a go at the young man on July 22, 2009, the day that Hamed, his 41-year-old mother Tooba Mohammad Yahya and his 58-year-old father Mohammad Shafia were arrested and charged with four counts each of first-degree murder.
The lengthy video of that interview was played Tuesday before Ontario Superior Court Judge Robert Maranger and the jury presiding over the trio's trial, where they are all pleading not guilty.
Det. Steve Koopman preceded Boyles — police thought he might form a bit of a bond with the young man, with whom he had dealt earlier in the investigation. Koopman was meant to be the soft touch; Boyles, a strapping fellow, was meant to be more confrontational.
Between them, they tried every trick in the interrogators' book: solicitousness, culturally appropriate pleas (the family is Afghan, so in this case that meant nods to honour and protestations of respect), the careful laying out of some of the mound of evidence police had gathered, confrontation, expressions of disappointment, anger and finally shock tactics (such as when Boyles showed the dead girls' pictures and later played a video excerpt of Yahya admitting the three had been at the crime scene).
The detectives turned themselves inside out to no avail: the young man before them was made of granite. He would not be moved from his story, even as one or another of the officers offered evidence disproving his most blatant lies.
Boyles' last big card was the video excerpt of Yahya's brief admission that she, her husband and son had been at the locks that night and had even heard a splash. The admission had come that same night, and several times Boyles deked out of the room to see if the clip was ready to be played.
Once, as he was about to leave, Hamed asked, "if I can look at it once again?" He meant the pictures of the bodies.
"No," Boyles replied.
"No," Hamed repeated, then, "I just have a look at this? I didn't catch your name either . . ." Boyles repeated his name.
"OK," Hamed said. "Can I see it, my files (the pictures)?" When Boyles returned, he had another picture with him. "Sorry Hamed," he said. "This was the one you wanted to see?"
"Yeah," he said.
The detective didn't hand it over immediately, but continued banging his head against the wall that was this boy for a while longer.
Then he said, "Did you want to see these again?"
"After this, we're done?" Hamed asked.
They chatted a bit more — Boyles asking if Hamed felt badly about what happened to his sisters, Hamed saying that, of course, he did.
At last, he leaned in and took the pictures.
"The position they were that time . . ." he began.
Boyles told him drowning was not a peaceful death, that it was horrible. The news, if it was news to him, washed over the boy and disappeared.
"Like the position you're in (when you drown), that position you come out? You get stuck in that position, I guess?" he asked.
"Sure Hamed," Boyles replied. "I'm not a doctor."
So that was the morning session, this boy with his unseemly interest in seeing the bodies of his sisters.
Later, came a witness — he can't be identified yet — who brought a welcome measure of unintended hilarity to the proceedings.
This fellow, a fellow Afghan and former student at Queen's, was hired as an interpreter by Shafia's lawyer, Peter Kemp, and, unknown to Kemp, also by Shafia to re-investigate the case, or, as the witness put it, to "try to uncover the truth."
In the course of this, he managed to review all the disclosure prosecutors had made to the defence, and show the accused trio, as he said, "what police had against them." He visited each in prison, immediately pronounced Shafia (who famously cursed his dead daughters as whores and prayed the devil would foul their graves) a deeply religious person incapable of lying, let alone worse, and told Hamed "just speaking with you for five minutes is enough for me to know you are not that kind of guy."
The witness was a one-man show: He did imitations of Yahya's strident voice and heavy accent from the Parwan area north of Kabul, and, as he gravely listened to his own recorded chat with Hamed, which he later duly presented to the police so "they could learn from their mistakes, reconsider their decision and discharge" the Kingston trio, he compulsively made notes "to help the court."