KINGSTON, Ont. — On the lengthy video police interview now being played for Ontario Superior Court Judge Robert Maranger and a jury, Tooba Mohammad Yahya pressed her face into the pictures of her children, wept, threw back her head and for a long while keened.
From the prisoner's box, with a full view of her own torment on the screen before her, Yahya also cried from time to time, and once bent over at the waist, her head to the floor, and disappeared from view altogether for about 15 minutes.
It was distressing, as it always is to hear a person howl in pain — but then, this is Yahya we are describing, and she is no stranger, shall we say, to the theatre arts.
Indeed, in the first two-thirds of the interview the jurors have seen on video Yahya also occasionally protested that she was tired, weak or sick and that her mind was not stable, flirted with her handsome male interrogator, albeit in a perfectly proper Muslim/Afghan way (it is not unlike Protestant flirting, except with more flowery language), argued with him, disagreed with him and pretty much stood her ground.
Only hours into the interview did she finally admit that on the night her three daughters and "that lady" — as she invariably and dismissively called Rona Amir Mohammad, ostensibly her husband's cousin, but in truth his first wife — drowned in a black Nissan, she and her precious son Hamed heard the splash of the car entering the water at the Kingston Mills locks and ran toward it, "and we saw that a car was in the water."
But did she or Hamed do anything? Did they try to save the girls? Leap into the dark water? Call police?
They did not, Yahya acknowledged — in her case, she said, because of course she swooned from the shock and "fell down" and "became unconscious," as she is wont to do, and as for her son, she suggested, perhaps didn't have his cellphone.
"When the noise of the water came," she told Farsi-speaking RCMP Inspector Shahin Mehdizadeh, who had been brought in by Kingston Police to interrogate her, "we ran. We ran and came. At that moment, I became so stressed, as I didn't understand . . . I fell down. I screamed and fell down."
It was July 22, 2009, about three weeks since the death car had been discovered at the bottom of the most southerly of the Rideau Canal locks.
Yahya, now 41, her husband Mohammad Shafia, 58, and Hamed, now 20, had been arrested earlier that day in connection with the deaths of the four women. The remaining children had been placed with a relative.
The parents and son are charged with four counts of first-degree murder each, and all are pleading not guilty.
Until this admission that she, Hamed and Shafia were at the locks, Yahya had stuck stubbornly to her story, denying they were there that night, or that she had any knowledge of what could have happened to wipe out half her family.
For all Mehdizadeh's efforts — he both spoke softly to her and flat out called her a liar, invoked their common religion, praised her role as a mother, twice put a comforting hand on her shoulder — her admissions were few and far between.
She admitted the three were there that night. She admitted that yes, her husband had once confided he wanted to kill the oldest ughter, Zainab, and that her brother had mentioned something about Shafia "wanted to kill or wants to kill something like that."
But even then, she had an explanation.
In a bit of nonchalance reminiscent of Karla Homolka's most infamous remark — that her husband, the killer Paul Bernardo, wanted to have sex with her baby sister only "the once," and it was just the once and Tammy Homolka died during the drugging attack — Yahya elaborated.
"Believe me he (Shafia) had never mentioned about killing them, as, 'I want to kill the children.' Not all, just her, because. . . "
Mehdizadeh interrupted: "Which one? What is the name?"
"Zainab," Yahya replied.
You see, it was just the one daughter Shafia confided he'd like dead. No wonder Yahya didn't give it a second thought.
Despite these late-in-the-game admissions to Mehdizadeh, she was still adamantly insisting that she didn't help in any plan to off the girls, that she didn't know of any plan, that at most critical moments she was sick, or asleep, or unconscious.
Pushed, she seemed prepared to let the chips fall where they may, so long as they fell at Shafia's feet. Any mention of Hamed's alleged role, any suggestion that Hamed was less than noble, and Yahya leaped like a mother tiger protecting her cub.
Mehdizadeh was skeptical. He told her that all the Afghans he knew would sacrifice their lives to save a family member. Yahya agreed. Yet all three of them, by her own account, had at minimum seen the car in the water and not lifted a finger.