Sebastian Burns, Atif Rafay
Rafay Burns Appeal Campaign
♦♦ European support for Atif and Sebastian ♦♦ Jail-Sex Romp: Burns' public defender, Theresa Olson, suspended 2 years
The heartbreaking story
of two bright Canadians who were traded to the U.S. by malicious
cops to advance their careers.
This undercover operation is a disgrace to the democratic world. RCMP
undercover operators Haslett and Shinkaruk would be more at home
in the East German Stasi
Parents of a triple murderer vow to fight:
'We should have screamed out loud'
Brian Hutchinson: National Post, November 13, 2004
VANCOUVER - Dave Burns is sitting
in his West Vancouver living room. His wife, Carol, is in the
kitchen, making tea, arranging cheese and crackers on a tray.
I want to know what it's like,
being the parents of a convicted triple murderer. Does the topic
ever come up with friends? Mr. Burns pauses.
"Most of our friends don't
talk to us about the murders." He never told his own parents
about them; they lived in England, and died seven years ago knowing
nothing about the triple homicide.
"People don't believe
us, anyway, when we explain that the boys are innocent,"
says Mrs. Burns, setting down the tea tray in front of us.
"Our friends nod their
heads politely, but I can tell they don't believe it. But at
least they don't challenge us."
In May, following a sensational
six-month trial, a jury in Seattle, Wash., found Sebastian Burns
and his best friend, Atif Rafay, guilty of murdering Rafay's
father, Tariq, his mother, Sultana, and mentally handicapped
sister, Basma, in nearby Bellevue. The murders were committed
10 years ago, when Sebastian and Atif were 18 years old.
Last month, they were sentenced
to three consecutive life terms in prison, with no chance of
parole. They will soon be moved to a state prison, where they
will spend the rest of their lives.
Few people have ever seriously considered the possibility that the two Canadians might be innocent.
Members of the Bellevue Police
Department seemed convinced that Burns and Rafay brutally killed
the Rafays. At some point, the RCMP became convinced of their
guilt as well, and offered to assist their American counterparts.
It was the RCMP's aggressive, 15-week sting operation that ultimately doomed the two Canadians.
Posing as thugs, two B.C.-based
Mounties lured Burns into a phony criminal enterprise. Eventually,
they extracted from Burns and Rafay a pair of halting, reluctant
The RCMP's elaborate entrapment
job astonished even members of the Bellevue police; such pressure
tactics are illegal in the United States. Even so, Washington
State prosecutors were able to rely on the confessions to win
Why would two teenaged college
students with no criminal histories and no records of violence,
take a metal baseball bat and annihilate Rafay's entire family?
The motive, maintained police
and Washington State prosecutors, was money. The Rafay family
was worth, on paper, about $500,000. The two teenagers, prosecutors
suggested, were ruthless, amoral, psychopathic.
Preposterous, say Dave and
Carol Burns, in their first print media interview since the murders
took place 10 years ago.
Their son, they say, can be
childish and mouthy, but he's not a bloodthirsty psychotic. He
grew up in a comfortably middle-class home, playing the cello
and learning to be a glider pilot.
By all accounts, Atif Rafay
is brilliant, albeit socially awkward and shy. At the time of
the murders, he had just finished a successful freshman year
at Cornell University in New York. Burns had just completed his
first year at a Vancouver community college.
Both have been described as
arrogant, many times. Burns seems especially "cocky,"
I noted in a piece I wrote while attending the opening of the
murder trial, 12 months ago.
"A smirking, string bean
28-year-old, [Burns] got along too well with his publicly appointed
lawyer," I added. "He was seen having sexual contact
with Theresa Olson in a jailhouse conference room last year."
Sordid, and true. Burns really
did have some sort of sexual escapade with his lawyer. Before
the trial began, Ms. Olson and her colleague were replaced with
another pair of public defenders.
But was any of that really
significant to the case at hand? Did their courtroom smirks and
superior attitudes mean Burns and Rafay had murdered in a vain
attempt to collect on some insurance policies?
"This is not a slam dunk"
for the prosecution, I wrote. Its case was entirely circumstantial.
But the jury delivered a guilty verdict anyhow.
July 15, 1994. "I was
at home," recalls Dave Burns. "The phone rang. It was
Sebastian's girlfriend, Sarah Isaacs. She asked whether I had
heard the news. I said, 'What news?' "
Sebastian and Atif had found
all three members of Atif's family bludgeoned to death in their
home in Bellevue, a suburb of Seattle. Blood on the walls, the
ceiling, the floors. Brains and teeth scattered everywhere, bone
fragments embedded in the drywall.
Mr. Burns felt stunned. "When did all this happen?" he sputtered. Two days ago, Ms. Isaacs sobbed in reply.
"Why am I only learning of this now?" thought Mr. Burns. "Where are the boys? Where is my son?"
Bellevue police had received
a 911 call from Sebastian Burns, at two in the morning. The first
officers arrived at the Rafay house minutes later.
After speaking to them at the
murder scene, Bellevue detectives had isolated Burns and Rafay.
They put them up in a filthy Bellevue motel room that police
described as the worst dive in the area. The room lacked even
a telephone. Burns and Rafay had none of their belongings with
them. They had no money.
The police interviewed each
teenager three times; they considered them to be suspicious but
released them, anyhow.
Carol Burns picked up the two
at the bus station in Vancouver. "They looked like bedraggled
refugees," Mrs. Burns recalls.
Right away, she says, "all
their friends just converged on this house. There were kids all
over the house, talking, smoking. They were giggling, acting
silly, like 12-year-olds." Her husband, meanwhile, was "losing
it every day."
"We were dealing with
teenagers not attuned to the precariousness of their circumstances,"
explains Mr. Burns.
An intelligent, erudite man,
Mr. Burns is a retired engineer and venture capitalist. He is
also an amateur actor -- not the warm and fuzzy kind. "I've
always felt that hugging someone is slightly bogus," he
A native of England, he moved
to Canada to attend the University of Alberta. He loves West
Vancouver, but is wary of most people. He does not trust police.
His home has been bugged, his conversations have been monitored.
The anger he feels for his
son's accusers has never left him. He tries to "burn it
off" by swimming every day. He has developed an interest
in film, which was one of Sebastian's great passions. Mr. Burns
has also taught himself French, and now teaches the language
to others. He is fit, strong, energetic.
He springs to his feet, and
launches into a bitter tirade directed at the Bellevue police
department and the detectives who investigated the Rafay triple
Not a scrap of physical evidence
ever linked Sebastian and Atif to the murders, he points out.
The boys were examined for blood; their clothes were scanned,
their bodies searched. Nothing was found, save for a small patch
of blood from Dr. Rafay, located on the back of one of Atif's
Several pieces of evidence
should have cast reasonable doubt on the prosecution's case,
he says. Among the most compelling was testimony from two witnesses
who lived on either side of the Rafays' Bellevue home in July,
1994. Both neighbours recalled hearing unusual, persistent thumping
noises coming from inside the house the night of the murders.
Each neighbour testified that the noises came sometime between
9:30 and 10 in the evening, when Burns and Rafay were known to
The boys were out on the town.
They were seen having a small meal together in a Bellevue restaurant,
between 8:45 and 9:25. They went to a movie, and were seen inside
a Bellevue theatre complex, in time for a 9:50 showing of The
Lion King. They were also seen pulling at the theatre's curtain
when it failed to open during the film's opening minutes.
The prosecution argued the
killings must have taken place between 10 p.m. and midnight.
Prosecutors insisted the two teenagers had snuck away from The
Lion King undetected, returned to the Rafay house, undressed,
and beat the family to death. They argued the two had then wiped
themselves clean of any trace of blood and brain splatter, dressed,
disposed of the murder weapon and headed back out on the town.
A woman testified that she
had served Burns and Rafay dessert at a Seattle restaurant, sometime
after midnight. They seemed clean-cut, friendly and polite, she
recalled. They proceeded to a nightclub nearby; at 1:30 a.m.,
a club bouncer denied them entry because the places was about
to close. Then they drove home.
Mr. and Mrs. Burns claim inaccurate
statements the Bellevue police gave to reporters a few weeks
later were part of a campaign to destroy Sebastian and Atif's
credibility. This is hard to dispute.
The boys had displayed "no
emotion" when police arrived at the July 13 murder scene,
most newspapers reported police saying. That was incorrect. Original
police reports entered as evidence at their trial indicate that
Burns and Rafay were frantic; one officer at the murder scene
had told them to "calm down."
In August, 1994, Bellevue police
Lieutenant Jack McDonald told the Vancouver Sun that the teenagers
had exhibited "bizarre behaviour" in the hours and
days after the murders. They were uncooperative with police,
he said, and they seemed anxious to get out of Bellevue as soon
as possible. Atif had not made any attempt to contact his relatives,
he added, and did not wish to remain in Bellevue for his family's
All of this proved to be demonstrably false, at best, a distortion of the truth.
Police would admit in court
that Atif had, in fact, told them how to contact his relatives.
He didn't have a phone in the Bellevue motel room. Police also
admitted they had not, after all, informed the two teenagers
that a funeral had been scheduled.
Burns and Rafay obtained permission
from the Bellevue police to return to Vancouver two days after
the murders. Yet police also told reporters that the pair had
"fled" to Canada.
Although reporters have described
the Burns home in West Vancouver house as an "estate,"
it is, in fact, a modest split-level that sits on a quiet road.
The family is not wealthy.
Lawyers representing Sebastian
and Atif in Canada and in Washington have been paid with public
funds. "We'd be bankrupt by now it we had tried to fund
it ourselves," says Mrs. Burns, who worked in the investment
industry and is now also retired.
She handles most of the small
details in her son's life, when she can. Mrs. Burns drives to
Seattle once every three weeks or so, to see Sebastian and Atif.
Now 29 and 28, respectively, they remain housed in a downtown
Seattle remand facility. They have been in solitary confinement,
in one place or another, for the last five years. They don't
receive many guests.
"I do what mothers do,
I guess," says Mrs. Burns. "I bring socks and books
and money. I always feel better when I go and see Sebastian.
He always puts on a good face to us. He knows we'll be worried.
He writes and reads a lot."
Atif, she reports, has recently
shaved his head, in an attempt to look tougher. People have joked
that he looks like Gandhi.
The two will soon be moving
to a large state penitentiary, something Mrs. Burns worries about.
"Sebastian says it will be OK, and I believe it when he
tells me," she says. "Then I start to lose confidence
the next day."
They plan to appeal the murder
convictions. Mr. and Mrs. Burns hope to one day put in front
of an appeals panel a number of contentious rulings made by the
trial judge, including his decision to allow into evidence the
confessions extracted by the RCMP.
One ruling stands out. Defence
lawyers were prohibited from telling the Rafay jury about a startling
tip that Bellevue detectives had received from a known FBI informant
named Douglas Mohamad. Two weeks after the Rafay family murders,
Mr. Mohamad told lead detective Bob Thompson that he suspected
several Muslim extremists in Seattle were involved in the killings.
Mr. Mohamad told the detective
about a baseball bat that he thought the alleged extremists might
have used to kill the Rafays. When Mr. Mohamad gave his statement,
only the killers and police knew that a baseball bat was the
Nonetheless, Det. Thompson did not act upon the tipster's information, later explaining he considered the man "crazy."
Shortly after the murders,
a RCMP corporal in Vancouver also received a tip, this one from
a credible source who declared two days before the Rafays were
killed, word had spread about a $20,000 murder contract offered
by a notoriously violent Indo-Canadian gang operating in B.C.'s
lower mainland. The targets were said to be a South Asian family
that had recently moved from Vancouver to Bellevue.
That sounded a lot like the
Rafays, who hailed from Pakistan. But Det. Thompson did not act
as if that lead was plausible, either. Det. Thompson was aware
Dr. Rafay had been a prominent member of the Muslim community
in Vancouver and in Seattle. Although he was a moderate and a
pacifist, Dr. Rafay had opinions about certain Islamic issues
that some Muslims may have resented.
Dr. Rafay had co-founded the
Canadian-Pakistan Friendship Organization in Surrey, B.C., with
his close friend, Riasat Ali Khan, another moderate Muslim activist.
This year, Khan was assassinated outside his Surrey home. His
murder remains unsolved.
After the convictions, Mr.
and Mrs. Burns formed a small action committee to help with an
appeal effort. Among its members are Sebastian's sister, Tiffany
Burns, a TV news anchor based in Cleveland, Ohio.
Sarah Isaacs, Sebastian's former
girlfriend, is also on the committee. She has created a Web site
aimed at debunking the prosecution's successful case. Now married,
with a busy career as an historical researcher, she vows to continue
to fight for Sebastian's and Atif's acquittal and release. Just
winning the right to an appeal could take a decade, she acknowledges.
Dave and Carol Burns say they
will see it through, with or without the support of their friends
and neighbours. Having been mostly silent the last 10 years,
they are just now speaking out. It is a relief.
"I think we've done some
things wrong," Mrs. Burns says. "We didn't talk to
the press before, when all of this was going on. That was based
on advice from lawyers. In hindsight, I think we should have
screamed out loud."
The worst-case scenario, says her husband, "is that I die before my son and Atif are released from prison."
It's almost four in the afternoon;
I've been sitting with them in their living room for almost five
hours. Before I go, I ask if they have ever, for a minute, doubted
their son's innocence.
Never, Mrs. Burns says.
Mr. Burns hesitates. "Early
on, I said to myself, 'Dave, it is possible. If the physical
evidence is there, I can't deny this.' " As the case unfolded,
and as police and prosecutors showed their hand, any doubts he
might have had were erased.
Their fight is far from over, he says. For this family, it has really just begun.
Murder defendant Burns
accused of perjuring self
By Sara Jean Green, Seattle
Times Eastside bureau, May 13, 2004
Out of the jury's presence,
prosecutors yesterday accused triple-murder defendant Sebastian
Burns of perjuring himself on the witness stand and asked for
more time to prepare their cross-examination and call rebuttal
witnesses to impeach Burns' testimony.
King County Superior Court
Judge Charles Mertel initially denied the state's request, but
later decided to dismiss the jury early so he could hear arguments
from both sides to determine what the state will be allowed to
ask Burns. After lengthy pretrial hearings last year, Mertel
issued a ruling limiting the evidence the jury would be allowed
to consider in the triple, aggravated first-degree murder case
against Burns and his co-defendant, Atif Rafay.
On Tuesday, the state rested
its case after nearly six months of testimony. Burns' attorneys
then called their client to the stand.
Burns testified he and Rafay
didn't bludgeon Rafay's parents and sister to death with a baseball
bat in the Rafay family's Bellevue home on July 12, 1994. He
also said under oath that he and Rafay later confessed to killing
the family to two undercover Canadian police officers they thought
were high-rolling criminals because Burns feared the faux thugs
would kill him if he didn't.
"Mr. Burns, on virtually
every material fact, committed perjury and we think we can prove
that," said county deputy prosecutor Roger Davidheiser.
He added that the state has begun lining up rebuttal witnesses
who will "allow the state to fairly, accurately and succinctly
impeach the testimony Mr. Burns gave."
Prosecutors are expected to
cross-examine Burns this morning and have indicated they will
call at least two rebuttal witnesses. Attorneys for Rafay have
said they won't decide if Rafay will testify until after Burns'
Before Mertel dismissed the
jury for the day, jurors heard testimony from Detective Bob Thompson,
who led the Bellevue Police Department's homicide investigation
of the deaths of Tariq, Sultana and Basma Rafay. Thompson previously
testified for the prosecution.
Burns' attorney Jeffrey Robinson
grilled Thompson about tips Bellevue police received from other
law-enforcement agencies suggesting there was a religious motive
for the homicides. Part of the defense's case is that Thompson
and other police officials were so convinced of Burns and Rafay's
guilt within a day or two of the killings that they failed to
investigate other suspects, including Muslims who opposed Tariq
Rafay's religious beliefs. Tariq Rafay, a structural engineer,
had become a controversial figure after writing a paper and developing
a computer program that indicated North American mosques were
incorrectly positioned toward Mecca, the jury has heard.
Thompson testified the tips
weren't credible, but he later acknowledged he didn't speak about
a possible religious motive for the killings to anyone but the
Rafays' extended family - relatives who didn't live in the area.
"You didn't talk to any Muslims in the Seattle-Bellevue
area with religious beliefs in opposition to Dr. Tariq Rafay's,
did you?" Robinson asked. "No," Thompson said.
Later, Robinson asked, "You didn't talk to anybody who disagreed
with the paper Dr. Rafay was writing about the right way to pray,
did you?" Again, Thompson said, "No."
In another development, Robinson
told the judge that Burns and Rafay's cells inside the King County
Jail were searched soon after Burns testified on Tuesday.
"These were not jail officials,
your honor," Robinson said, adding that those who conducted
the search were in plainclothes. It wasn't clear yesterday what,
if anything, was taken.
The judge was expected to question a jail official this morning about the reason for the search.
Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or email@example.com
On Trial Diary forum, an entry was made about the above mentioned search
which was almost certainly done by Al Haslett and Gary Shinkaruk.
The entries mysteriously disappeared - - and they were not taken
down by anyone who controls the site. Fortunately one of the
properly suspicious forum participants had kept a file of the
entries and was able to restore the exchange. There is something
truly creepy about this visit. It reminds me of the stories we
hear about sex-murderers who return to the scenes of their crimes,
keep trophies of their victims and visit the victims' grave sites.
Lawyers in tug-of-war
over tapes-- Unedited audio, video surveillance important to murder trial, attorney says
by Noel S. Brady, Journal Reporter, December 1, 2001
BELLEVUE - Another day of
wrangling over evidence-sharing in the Glen Sebastian Burns and
Atif Ahmad Rafay triple-murder case yesterday previewed what
jurors might hear from hundreds of hours of audio and video surveillance tape.
In King County Superior Court,
Burns' co-defense attorney Neil Fox displayed typed summaries
of four months of wire tap surveillance tape of Burns and Rafay.
Some included the co-defendants talking to undercover Royal Canadian
Mounted Police officers in a Vancouver, British Columbia, apartment.
Fox asked Judge Charles Mertel
to compel prosecutors and Canadian authorities to hand over all
the tapes, not just what prosecutors consider incriminating.
For instance, Fox said, one
tape reveals the aggressive, thug-like demeanor undercover officers
took to intimidate Burns and Rafay.
Burns, 26, and Rafay, 25, are
accused of using baseball bats to bludgeon to death Rafay's parents,
Tariq and Sultana Rafay, and his 19-year-old sister, Basma, in
their Somerset-area home in July 1994. Prosecutors say they did
it for a $350,000 insurance policy.
Burns and Rafay returned to
their homes in Vancouver after the murders, but were arrested
by undercover RCMPs a year later. The officers posed as gangsters
and eventually managed to elicit confessions from Burns and Rafay,
But defense attorneys say those confessions were coerced and false.
Another tape documents a conversation
between Rafay and a high school friend, Fox said. In a sworn
deposition used in the co-defendants' extradition hearing in
Canada, the friend said Rafay confessed to the murders. But in
the surveillance tape, Fox said, the friend speaks of their innocence.
Rafay's co-counsel James Koenig
said the seemingly mundane surveillance footage includes information
about the defendants and their past that undercover officers
exploited to gain a psychological advantage that led to their
"Those tapes are critical
in a variety of ways that we cannot understand," Koenig said.
"We need the originals because they were edited with an eye
toward what may be inculpatory."
Getting the original tapes
won't be easy, said Senior Deputy Prosecutor James Konat. Prosecutors
haven't even seen them yet.
"We don't have access to this," he said.
However, Konat promised to
speak with the RCMP and update the court on the tapes' availability
at the next scheduled hearing Dec. 14.
At that time, the court also
will take up more evidence-sharing issues as well the defense's
motion for Judge Mertel to write letters to the British Columbia
Supreme Court, asking it to compel the RCMP to hand over the evidence.
Yesterday, defense attorneys
received boxes of documented evidence, including hundreds of
Bellevue police crime scene and autopsy photographs on compact disc.
The trial is tentatively scheduled to begin May 6.
Noel Brady can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 425-453-4252