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
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 confessions.
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 convictions.
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 tells me.
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 murder.
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 pant legs.
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 be elsewhere.
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 funeral.
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 murder weapon.
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.
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' cross-examination.
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.
On Trial Diary forum [site defunct], 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. --Sheila Steele
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, prosecutors say.
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 false confessions.
"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.