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CHRISTIE BLATCHFORD: Doctor’s murder by her neurosurgeon husband brought brutal end to volatile marriage

Dr. Mohammed Shamji and his wife Dr. Elana Fric. - Facebook

TORONTO — It was such a brief bit of business, the judge his usual exquisitely well-mannered self, referring to the rail-thin man in the prisoner’s box who had just acknowledged killing his wife as “sir” and “Dr. Shamji.”

On paper — to be precise, two pages of paper and 22 spare paragraphs read into the record — it would have seemed impossible that the brutality would even register.

Yet it did.

“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.”

Crown attorney Henry Poon continued, told Ontario Superior Court Judge John McMahon that the now 43-year-old Shamji then packed the body of Elana Fric Shamji, an accomplished family physician and an Ontario Medical Association delegate, into a suitcase, drove it north of the city, and dumped it in the Humber River.

“In the days after he killed her, Mohammed carried on with his daily routines, including performing surgeries the next day; he lied to just about everyone he came into contact with as to his missing wife’s whereabouts.”

Thus, on the eve of his trial for first-degree murder in his wife’s death, did Shamji’s lawyers and prosecutors reach a resolution, with the neurosurgeon re-arraigned on a charge of second-degree murder, and pleading guilty to the charge in a Toronto courtroom on Monday.

Jury selection in that trial was to begin Wednesday.

Unlike those who instruct their lawyers that they wish to plead guilty at the earliest opportunity (a phenomenon most poignantly illustrated by the driver who caused the horrific bus crash that all but wiped out the Humboldt, Sask., junior hockey team and who immediately took responsibility), Shamji’s plea came late.

It meant that until the resolution agreement was finalized, his oldest child, a daughter who is now 14, would have been bracing to testify at his trial. The teenager was to have been a key prosecution witness.

As Poon told McMahon, the girl was “awakened from her sleep by the sounds of her parents arguing in the next room.

“She heard banging, her mom scream, then silence.”

At some point, the prosecutor said, “the (then) 11-year-old went to her parents’ room to investigate. She was ordered back to bed by her father.”

The teen was present in court Monday, along with her grandparents and a large group of her mother’s relatives and friends, some of them wearing purple ribbons used to raise awareness about domestic violence. It would have been the first time she, or her now 11-year-old younger sister, had seen their father since his arrest on Dec. 2, 2016.

The couple’s third child, a son, is only five and wasn’t in the courtroom.

According to a lengthy Toronto Life feature in 2017, the couple had long had a troubled and volatile relationship.

When the couple was living in Ottawa, Shamji had actually been charged with assaulting and threatening Fric; a few months later, the charges were withdrawn and settled with a peace bond, which spared Shamji a criminal record.

A conviction might have ruined his chance to attend Duke University, where he’d been accepted into a biomedical engineering program; the peace bond saved it.

Prosecutor Poon told the judge that the couple’s marriage, “marred by reports of verbal, emotional and at times physical abuse” as well as Shamji’s reported infidelity, had been deteriorating in the spring of 2016.

In May that year, Fric “initiated divorce proceedings.” But Shamji pleaded, Poon said, for “more time for him to better himself in the marriage. She agreed and abandoned the divorce proceedings.”

But as spring turned to summer, the relationship still on the rocks, “Elana decided to give up on the marriage for good.”

At some point thereafter, she began an affair with a fellow doctor, and in October formally retained a divorce lawyer.

“He (Shamji) asks again for more time for the sake of the children and the upcoming holiday season,” Poon told the court. “Again she relented.

“At around this time, Mohammed confirmed his wife’s affair.”

On Monday, two days before he killed her with his hands, Shamji “was formally served with divorce papers.”

Shamji was a renowned neurosurgeon; in the days after his arrest, former and aspiring patients came forward in the press to sing his praises, to say that this wasn’t the gentle man they knew.

But who knows another’s marriage, especially in the era of social media fiction, when people seem so invested in documenting their purported happiness as part of some curious personal brand?

As Elana Fric several times told friends, this according to a prosecutor’s factum on a pre-trial motion (never ruled upon) to introduce statements she made before her death, “Don’t believe what you see on Facebook.” She called it “Fakebook.”

The only significant difference between a conviction for first- and second-degree murder is in the period of parole ineligibility; the former carries an automatic 25-year period, the latter is decided by the judge and can range from between 10 and 25 years.

Judge McMahon will hear victim impact statements at a two-day hearing starting May 8.

After the prosecutor read aloud the brief statement of facts Monday, McMahon, in his careful way, asked Shamji to stand and said, “Is that what happened?”

“Yes,” he said.

About 40 per cent of Canadian marriages now end in divorce, but for a few, it’s not ending enough.

• Email: cblatchford@postmedia.com | Twitter:

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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