Thursday, January 17, 2013

Trial gets underway for Ethiopian Tamrat Gebere accused of stabbing ex-girlfriend 53 times

Aster Kassa left her boyfriend, Tamrat Gebere, more than a year before her life was ended.
Tamrat Gebere
 OTTAWA — Tamrat Gebere was holding his crying 17-month-old daughter in his arms when he called 911 to report that he had stabbed her mother to death, an Ottawa court heard as Gebere’s second-degree murder trial got underway Wednesday.

“Hello. I killed my girlfriend,” Gebere told the dispatcher, sobbing between words. “I killed her. Sorry. Sorry.”

Gebere tried to hush his daughter’s cries as the dispatcher asked whether 32-year-old Aster Kassa was still breathing.

“I miss Mommy,” he repeated over and over, refusing to go back into the bedroom where Kassa lay dead, stabbed 53 times.

Gebere, 37, sat slouched in the prisoner’s box with his face in his hands as the jury listened to the recording of the 911 call. He has pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter.

Kassa left Gebere more than a year before she was killed, Crown prosecutor Lia Bramwell told the jury during her opening statement. Mother and daughter bounced from one shelter to the next before moving to a two-bedroom apartment on Riverside Drive in July 2010.

“One can only imagine the anticipation and hope that Aster felt as she and her young child left the shelter for their new home — a place they could call their own,” Bramwell said. “That hope for a better future crashed to an abrupt halt just 18 hours later.”

Gebere called 911 at 4:15 p.m. on July 17. When he said he stabbed Kassa in the neck, the dispatcher asked if the knife was still in the bedroom.

“I think so, yeah, but I just carry my baby,” Gebere replied.

Kassa was found dead in her daughter’s bedroom, on a mattress next to a yet-to-be assembled crib.

Bramwell told jurors that shortly before the killing, Kassa was served with court documents from Gebere, who was seeking custody and child support payments.

Bramwell argued that their “atypical relationship” was filled with tension early on. Both born in Ethiopia, the pair met in Toronto shortly after Kassa arrived in Canada in April 2008.

Bramwell hinted that witnesses would later describe how Gebere pressured Kassa to have an abortion when she became pregnant soon after they started dating. Kassa refused for religious reasons and moved to Ottawa to live with Gebere as the pregnancy progressed, court heard.

Four months after giving birth, Kassa moved back to Toronto with her newborn girl and began living in a shelter.

Bramwell argued that when Kassa moved back to Ottawa in December 2009, it was so that her daughter could have a relationship with her father — but the former couple maintained separate residences.

Bramwell charged that Gebere threatened Kassa and her family members in Africa repeatedly in the months leading up to her death, apparently motivated by a desire to see his daughter.

The little girl was sitting on the floor when the first Ottawa police officer arrived at the seventh-floor apartment.

“She was bawling her eyes out,” Const. Salvador Arella testified.

Gebere was still on the phone with emergency dispatch when Arella pointed his gun and shouted at him to drop to the floor. He said Gebere was co-operative and quiet from the time he arrived at the apartment to the point when he was locked in a cell at the Elgin Street police station.

“He had a flat look. No real expression,” he said.

Arella was surprised at Gebere’s response asked if he wanted to speak to a lawyer.

“He said, ‘I did it,’” Arella recalled. “It caught us all off guard.”

Later, as Gebere sat on a cell bed staring at the floor, he briefly broke into tears twice. He also asked about his daughter.

The trial is expected to continue for six weeks.