Toronto neurosurgeon pleads guilty to second-degree murder in death of wife
A Toronto neurosurgeon accused of beating and strangling his physician wife to death pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in a Toronto courtroom on Monday.
The plea comes mere days before Dr. Mohammed Shamji’s six-week trial was set to begin..
Shamji has been in custody since his arrest on Dec. 2, 2016.
His wife and the mother of his three children, Dr. Elana Fric-Shamji, was discovered just one day earlier, stuffed inside a suitcase that was abandoned in a wooded area of Kleinberg, Ont.
According to an agreed statement of facts, the couple’s marriage had been “marred by reports of verbal, emotional and at times physical abuse of Elana by Mohammed.”
The 12-year marriage was “volatile and dysfunctional,” the court heard, which led Fric-Shamji to file for divorce in May of 2016.
However, Shamji “resisted” the separation and two reconciled.
By summertime, Fric-Shamji “decided to give up the marriage for good.” At the same time, she began having an affair with a fellow doctor.
Shamji became aware of the affair in the winter. He was formally served divorce papers on Nov. 28, 2016.
“In the following days, things were volatile in the matrimonial home,” the statement of facts read. “Mohammed was imposing himself on her in an attempt to change her mind.”
On the night of her death, the couple got into a heated argument in the bedroom of their North York home while their three young children were asleep. The commotion woke their eldest daughter – then 11 years old – who said she heard banging, her mother’s screams and then silence.
When the little girl went to her parents’ room, her father ordered her to go back to bed.
“Mohammed struck Elana multiple times, causing her significant blunt force injuries all over her body, including a broken neck and broken ribs. He then choked her to death,” the statement reads.
“After the killing Mohammed packed his wife’s body in a suitcase and drove about 35 kilometres north of the city and dumped the suitcase in the Humber River.”
Shamji, a neurosurgeon at Toronto Western Hospital, carried on with his normal daily routines after the murder, even performing scheduled surgeries the following day.
As concern grew about his wife’s whereabouts, the court heard Shamji “lied to just about everyone he came into contact with” about where she may be.
He went as far as planting phone messages “calculated” to try and blame his wife’s lover and “cover his own tracks.”
Fric-Shamji was reported missing by her mother before a passerby discovered the suitcase.
Ana Fric told reporters outside the courtroom that her family will never see justice.
“The only justice we could have is if she would come back… But she’ll never come back,” she said.
Fric-Shamji has been described as a “passionate” and talented family doctor who worked at Scarborough and Rouge Hospital. Her untimely death spurred widespread grief among those in the health-care community, as well as her colleagues.
The family and friends of Fric-Shamji have regularly been in attendance at court proceedings wearing purple ribbons on their shirts as a symbol of domestic violence awareness.
Lawyer for the Fric family, Jean DeMarco, said crucial details of the case have been “shroud in secrecy” as the courts prepared for a full trial. The family has stayed relatively quiet through the proceedings due to a custody battle and civil suit that took place over the past few years.
“They (the family) did support the plea. Although it was the Crown’s decision, it was supported by the family,” she said.
DeMarco said many questions will be answered following the sentencing, but that some elements will remain confidential in an effort protect the couple’s young children.
The couple’s two daughters, now 14 and 12, were in the courtroom as their father entered his plea.
At one point, one of the two girls left the courtroom abruptly in tears.
“She is the one who gave a full day of testimony at the preliminary inquiry and she feels very much a part of the process and didn’t feel she should be excluded,” DeMarco said.
“She’s 14. We did feel it was better for her to not be there, but she chose to be there.”
CP24 crime specialist and former homicide detective Steve Ryan, who led the investigation before retiring from the force, said he believes the guilty plea will impact the judge’s sentencing decision.
A second-degree murder charge laid in Canada carries an automatic life sentence with no chance of parole for anywhere between 10 and 25 years.
“He may get the 18-year range for that,” Ryan said. “He’s got to get some credit for taking responsibility. He doesn’t force his daughters to testify against him, and he prevents the family from having to listen to all that evidence.”
Shamji is due back in court for sentencing on May 8.