Why we believe in the innocence of Atif Rafay and Sebastian Burns


REASON ONE: No hard or scientifically gathered evidence ties them to the crime.

A bludgeoning is an extremely bloody way to kill. It goes, almost without saying, that for one to bludgeon three different people to death and leave no trace of blood in the scalp or anywhere else on his face is unlikely. Showering would not be sufficient. They agreed to undergo forensic testing for five days without legal representation, because they thought their innocence would protect them. No one, neither prosecutors nor police, say they found hard evidence linking Burns and Rafay to the crime.

Lacking a solid case, they referred (and still do) to “a mountain of circumstantial evidence”, evidence that turns out to be negligible evidence, a molehill of evidence. Lacking a solid case, they turned to the RCMP:

REASON TWO: Their confessions to the RCMP mobsters took many months of heavy handed interviews to obtain. No juror was shown video evidence of Sebastian’s constant denials that he had anything to do with the crime, while the RCMP has disposed of almost the entire taped interrogation. What remains are the sessions that implicate Burns and Rafay.

The so-called confessions were manufactured from Sebastian Burns’s knowledge of the case gained in newspaper accounts available at the time.

REASON THREE: James Miyoshi, the chief witness against them, was threatened with being charged as an accessory, a crime punishable by life in prison, making his testimony less than reliable. What he said was always vague and sometimes even fanciful. Reliance upon such testimony is a sign of a faulty case, but they thought they needed it to seal the deal. In truth, Miyoshi tried to protect himself from prison while not betraying his friends. This proved to be an impossibility.

REASON FOUR: The RCMP never looked to any other suspects, despite being told by sources that a hit was being planned against a Pakistani family newly moved to Bellevue, WA. Nor were leads followed after the killings that may have implicated an extremist religious group, despite the Bellevue police having a factually reliable tip from a confirmed FBI informant. In that Sebastian and Atif were the only suspects investigated, the Burns/Rafay case may well be a classic example of ‘tunnel vision’.


  1. Atif and Sebastian loved the work of philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche. The prosecutors equated Nietzsche’s work with Adolph Hitler, and utilized the very loose connection to indicate that Sebastian and Atif believed that they were superior beings, entitled to eliminate anyone who got in their way. That fact that Nietzsche was perhaps the most influential philosopher of the 19th and 20th centuries was lost on the jury. Hitler did admire the German philosopher but the philosopher never expressed a belief in genocide, nor did the defendants.
  1. The actual motive given for the crime was greed. Atif would inherit money from his father’s estate that could be used to make a film. Does that sound like motivation to bludgeon a family to death, or did Atif and Sebastian create this motive to satisfy the RCMP gangsters who made them fear for their lives? Why would they choose to kill the Rafays? The Burns’s had more money by far and there was no death penalty in Canada.
  1. Burns appeared in a school play, “The Rope” where the eponymous murder weapon was changed into a baseball bat. This is a stark coincidence but hardly proof of murder since it presupposes that a killer would advertise his method beforehand.
  1. The crime scene was made to appear like a burglary had occurred. Somehow this was attributed to the two teens, as if other killers could not have thought of the same idea. Were the murders done by others seeking revenge against Tariq Rafay, they might also want to make the scene appear like a burglary.
  1. Sebastian Burns’s hair was found in the shower, mixed with the Rafay’s blood. This is the most quoted piece of evidence. Burns was living in that house for several days and using that shower. Do adolescents consistently clean up after themselves?
  1. Blood was found on the bottom of Atif’s pants. Atif and Sebastian entered the bloody crime scene and walked from room to room. Why wouldn’t the cuffs have blood on them? Why would blood be nowhere else?
  1. News reports then and since have referred to Atif and Sebastian fleeing to Canada to evade investigation. This is the most scurrilous of all the accusations against them. Sebastian lived in West Vancouver; Atif’s family had been annihilated. Where would they go but Canada since Atif was a citizen? The truth is that they were allowed to leave because there was no credible evidence against them. The RCMP sting (Mr. Big) was used against them to elicit confessions, but the use of the sting, according to current rulings by the Supreme Court of Canada, should not have been used in the absence of hard evidence. No such safeguards existed at that time.

So called evidence from the sting should not have been allowed into a US courtroom but the judge was prejudiced against the defendants. Mr. Big violates the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and the Fourteenth Amendment against illegal search and seizure.

MIRANDA rights, i.e. the right to remain silent and to know that what you say may be used against you in a court of law; the right to have a lawyer present during questioning; the right to select questions you want to answer; were not accorded them. Why not? Because the evidence was gathered in Canada. To permit this evidence at trial was the result of a mistaken interpretation of the law and of Miranda protections

REASON SIX: The most significant evidence in the case pointed to their innocence and was explained away.

Fact: Atif and Sebastian were seen at a showing of The Lion King at the time of the murder—minutes before 10 p.m. Neighbours on both sides heard the thumps from the bludgeoning at 9:50 that night (twilight).

How can they have been in two places at once? How do you attack an airtight alibi? Somehow, it was averred, they left the theater by the side door and raced back to commit the murders. Even if this unlikely story was hatched under duress by Sebastian himself, it doesn’t make sense in the time context. So the prosecutor obfuscated the time by calling the neighbours’ recollections into question.

In light of what appears to us a manufactured case against Atif Rafay and Sebastian Burns, it is legitimate to doubt the result of the trial and the verdict of the appeal court.


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About ken

I am a former Toronto teacher and writer now living in Vancouver. I work with Dr. Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter, with whom I published Eye of the Hurricane: My path from Darkness to Freedom (Chicago review Press, 2011), as Director of Media Relations and as an advocate for wrongly convicted prisoners. Other publication credits include Songs of Aging Children (Arsenal Pulp Press, 1992) a book of short stories about troubled youth, and Taking Steam, a play co-authored with the late Brian Shein, staged at New York's Jewish Repertory Theatre and Toronto in 1983. Life Without (Quattro Books, 2012) is a novella about a New York cab driver wrongly convicted of killing his pregnant wife. Gary Geddes (Lt. Governor's Award for Literary Excellence) described it as "one of the most brilliant and harrowing short novels I've read since I went on a John Hawkes binge."

39 thoughts on “Why we believe in the innocence of Atif Rafay and Sebastian Burns

  1. Well said.

    I would say from my studies of this case that the evidence is overwhelming that they are innocent.

    The police and prosecutors and media MUST stop assuming that a relative is the likely perpetrator. Tunnel vision by conviction hungry law enforcement is too often the result.

  2. I do not believe for a second they are innocent. Absolutely no other theory fits the crime. Their ‘alibis’ were staged, and you ignore the innumerable signs of guilt they exhibited. Sebastian Burns is also clearly a sociopath. You are barking up the wrong tree defending these two, and it’s very bad for your credibility.

    • “Absolutely no other theory fits the crime.” It is when people like Roger deliver “absolutes” that we lose the possibility of reason. No other theory THAT HE CAN THINK OF fits the crime. “Clearly a sociopath”. Once again, where is the reasoning? “very bad for your credibility”. My credibility is of no importance compared to the suffering of Sebastian Burns and Atif Rafay. I can handle it. Roger’s credibility should be based on his knowledge and handling of facts, not his unsupported statements.

  3. REASON ONE: You state that showering would not be sufficient to remove blood from the scalp and body but do you really know that for certain?

    REASON TWO: When Haslett asks ” Did any of them fight?”, Sebastien prefaces his answer by saying “Well, that’s a story that has yet to be told…”. He’s very convincing in making it sound like he’s not simply regurgitating media accounts of the crime but rather giving a first hand account of what happened. It’s a shame he never got to act in a movie. He might have won an academy award. The falseness of most false confessions is easy to detect…often painfully obvious. If these confessions are false, they’re the most convincing false confessions ever videotaped.

    • Wording is important. I said it was “unlikely” that showering would remove all traces of blood. No, I can’t be 100% certain but never said I was.
      As to false confessions, they take many forms. I can only say that, after ten years of researching them, it’s possible that I know more than you do on this subject. They can be quite convincing, especially if the suspect has a compelling reason to make them so. In this case, both Burns and Rafay feared for their lives.

        • In the previous sentence to the one you quote, I used the word “unlikely” with respect to eliminating any trace of blood from the face or scalp. The sentence after, that you quote, refers back to the previous sentence. I might have done a better job in clarifying that.

  4. As for the weakness of the circumstantial evidence:

    1. The prosecution never said that Nietzsche was a genocidal Nazi. They made the point that, like all authors, his writings are open to interpretation and that Atif and Sebastien interpreted some of these writings in an sinister way. Millions of people read Catcher in the Rye without subsequently shooting a President or killing a pop star but a couple of people did. Same idea here. I don’t think that this is strong circumstantial evidence and there’s nothing to say that the jury attributed much weight to it. At the same time, I don’t think it was wrong for the prosecution to reveal Atif and Sebastien’s affinity for the “superman theory” as a way to illustrate their belief in themselves as superior beings who are above the law.

    • Leonard,
      “There’s nothing to say that the jury attributed much weight to it.” There’s nothing to say either way as you and I were not on the jury. If I had been on the jury, I might have been taken in by the prosecutor’s association of Nietzsche with genocidal ideas (this is in the trial transcript) although I can now see it as a gross manipulation. There is a great distance between subscribing to a theory that some people are superior to others, as obnoxious as that might be, to murdering those who are inferior.

  5. circumstantial evidence:
    2. You ask why the boys would choose to kill the Rafay family as opposed to the wealthier Burns family. One reason could be that Sebastien was close to his family and therefore never put the idea of killing them on the table for himself and Atif to consider. Atif wasn’t as close to his family. He looked upon his parents devout religious beliefs with disdain and was estranged from his sister because of her disability. A second reason could be that Basma’s disability made the Rafay family an easier target. You also ask why they would choose to commit murder in Washington where there is the death penalty as opposed to Canada where there is not. This question assumes that the death penalty acts as a deterrent. Do you believe that?

    • If they were so cold and calculating, the death penalty would be a deterrent. No, I don’t believe in general that the death penalty is a deterrent.
      The Rafay family had very little money aside from an insurance policy. The house was heavily mortgaged as they had moved there recently. The Burns family was wealthy by those standards.
      Many kids have disdain for their parents’ religious beliefs. It’s simply not credible as a motive for murder, as the media and the prosecution (and you) tried to suggest.
      Finally, I do not believe that Sebastian was any closer to his family than Atif was to his. I believe that Atif had a close relationship with his mother and, like many late teens, a more distant attitude toward his father. You are making a series of assumptions here that do not hold up when you are actually familiar with the people involved, as I am. As to his sister, maybe Atif was estranged from her. The people who targeted the Rafays must have known about her too. That’s why they didn’t attempt the killing when Sebastian and Atif were in the house. So I agree that they were easier targets in that respect.

  6. circumstantial evidence:

    3. I’d have no difficulty accepting similarities between “Rope” and the murders as a stark coincidence if it was the only stark coincidence but it’s not. After wrecking the family car, Sebastien attempted to extricate himself using theater alibi. Later, at the precise time the Rafays were being murdered, of all the places in the world he could possibly have been, where was he? He was in a theater…again. I mean, honestly, what are the odds of two such astonishing coincidences befalling one person? Probably about the same odds as one person twice winning the grand prize lottery jackpot. Probably about the same odds as one person being struck by lightening on two separate occasions. If Sebastien Burns is innocent, he’s got to be the most unlucky fella ever to walk the face of the earth. Here’s the point I really want to make: It’s very easy to take any one piece of circumstantial evidence in this case and look at it in isolation and conclude that it’s coincidental or indefinitive or both. However, when you take all the pieces of circumstantial evidence and line them up beside each other and look at them collectively and connect the dots, the whole exceeds the sum of the parts. This, of course, is nothing more than my humble opinion.

    • The theater coincidence is not as unlikely as you say. They were seen in that movie theater on the night of the killing. Moreover, adolescents lying about family car accidents is unsurprising. In the past, young people spent lots of time in movie theaters. Why wouldn’t that come to mind? The circumstantial evidence in this case does not line up as you say, unless you have a need for closure. We all deceive ourselves in pursuit of a winning argument. The more powerful arguments, I believe, are the absence of forensic evidence and the coercion of the confessions.

  7. circumstantial evidence:
    4.I agree with you here as far as you go which ain’t too far. Yes, perpetrators other than Atif and Sebastien could have staged the crime scene to make it look like a burglary. Let’s go with that. Let’s assume the perps were persons not known to the Rafays…strangers. Isn’t likely these strangers would have left signs of forced entry?If Sultana was anything like my wife, she would have had the doors locked especially given that she had just moved to a new neighborhood. Okay….maybe she forgot to lock the doors. If a stranger entered the residence through an unlocked door with a baseball bat, isn’t likely Sultana would have been alarmed?That she would have screamed? That she would have suffered defensive wounds trying to ward off her attacker? That her screams would have awakened Tariq? That he also would have suffered defensive wounds? Sultana and Tariq both died without ever knowing what hit them. Neither one sustained any defensive wounds. Sultana was never aware that a stranger was in her house. These strangers must have been real stealthy. And real good lock pickers too. Maybe these strangers had keys. Maybe these strangers looked exactly like Atif Rafay and his good buddy Sebastien Burns.

    • Interesting discussion here with someone who appears reasonable. I appreciate that. Sultana was probably not like your wife, especially since she had lived in Canada for an extended period. Back in those days, Canadians (and I know this from many years in Toronto) were just as apt to leave their doors unlocked as they were to lock them. It may have been by habit that she didn’t keep the doors locked.
      We don’t know about screams. We do know that the neighbors heard thumping sounds at the time the boys were at the movie theater. Since Sultana may have been surprised, she might not have been able to scream but to look with horror and panic at her attacker. In nightmares, we sometimes try to scream but cannot. I would say that this killing was nightmarish. Tariq Rafay was in bed when he was attacked and would likely have been asleep. I think your argument here is thin.

  8. You’ll notice that I didn’t comment on some of the points in your blog. That’s because I agree with them. I completely agree with you, for example, that they did not “flee” to Canada. They were well within their rights to return to Canada and probably should have done so sooner.
    This is a fascinating case. There’s just so much in this one. As you can tell, it’s gotten under my skin a little bit. I’ve enjoyed discussing it with you.
    Has the appeal process in this case been exhausted? I think it would be a good thing if they were granted a new trial regardless of the outcome.

    • Atif has appealed on every level and is still pursuing the final stage of a personal restraint petition (PRP). He is trying to make a thorough case for his habeas hearings by exploring (and exploiting) all possible grounds for a federal appeal.
      Sebastian went straight to habeas (federal court) after losing his initial set of state appeals.
      The process has not been exhausted but it is an ordeal. Still, Atif is upbeat and feeling well supported from the outside. Attorneys are now working on his case as are others. Frankly, he is remarkably strong in the face of continued unjust incarceration.

  9. I am troubled by the fact that Atif did not attend the funeral of his family, but instead was on a bus back to Canada. Couldn’t he have waited 1 day or so and been at the funeral? Another thing, it seems totally unbelievable that he would notice his walkman and VCR missing in all that carnage. Plus, they very quickly stopped cooperating with the police. They both come across as very arrogant and pompous and uncaring about the brutal murders. Atif didn’t even go in to try and help his sister who was moaning and dying. He admitted as much on tape. And Sebastian’s family members all come across as arrogant and in denial which is often typical of family members. Nothing about these young men screams innocent. And I’m sure there is a lot more evidence that we just don’t know about — whether it’s not presented in the media, or to the jury.

    • The funny thing here is that I agree with Lori on some of the points she made. Troubling, yes. The behaviour of eighteen year olds, yes. I would ask you, as I have countless times of others: How would you behave after finding your entire family bludgeoned to death? If you thought the killer(s) was still in the house, would you help your brother or sisterA? Maybe, maybe not. Some people are more courageous than others. The point is you don’t know unless you have to face it and I sincerely hope you never do. You can’t answer that and neither can I. There is no behavioural manual for those who face atrocity. The VCR issue could well have been a way of avoiding the absolute horror of what had occurred; that’s what I think and I know Atif well.
      The family memorial took place in Vancouver and the two of them behaved badly. Atif had no connection of any sort with his extended family. But had the both of them been cunning and calculating they would undoubtedly have behaved in a solemn and hypocritical manner.
      You think people should cooperate with police? If you’re a suspect? You need a lawyer, right? They didn’t even calculate enough to protect themselves because they knew they were innocent and thought they had nothing to worry about. That is the mistake many people, young and old, make by talking to police. I hope you don’t do anything like that, Lori, because it would be a mistake. The police talk to you because you are a suspect. It wasn’t until Mr. Burns got them a lawyer that they stopped talking to police.
      “I am sure there is a lot more evidence…” Believe me, there isn’t. And the evidence you mention here is not evidence that they committed a murder. And nothing forensic has ever surfaced that ties them to this murder.

  10. Ken, is there on record any similar cases of possible violence perpetrated by “Muslim Fundamentalists” in the US or Canada ? That is, personal home invasions/murder of entire families ? What is the history ?

    Does the Innocence Project do any research on the leads the police neglected or are you solely focussed on the plight of the convicted ?

    I ask this because I have as much trouble, or even more, imagining Muslim fundamentalists as the killers as I do Sebastian and Atif. If the kind of grievances this group supposedly had towards Mr Rafay led to the brutal murder of an entire family, one would think it would hardly be a one-off case. Also a very risky way to commit it instead of targeting Mr Rafay on his own. But I don’t know, maybe there are other circumstances and I have just not heard of them. (and I’m not talking about honour killings)

    In terms of motive, why does insurance money necessarily have to enter into it ? Sebastian may have been exercising a fantasy; the Rafays were convenient and so was their son. There are so many precedents and documentation of the psychology of murdering pairs.

    Finally, I must question your statement that you “know Atif very well”. Firstly, he is a man behind bars who needs friends and help – this is not a symbiotic, free-flowing situation.
    Many killers are kind, intelligent, creative people who are surrounded by friends and family that adore them. Take Dylan Klebold, for example, and the secret life he hid from everyone. Mind blowing !

    • Hi Allyson,
      Your response is well thought out and welcome. To the best of my ability, I can answer some of these questions.
      First, I will say that no two crimes are identical (home invasions and the like) but that we were basing our speculation on the ‘modus operandi’. According to documents and the original police investigations, Mrs. Rafay received threatening phone calls beforehand; two suspects in that community were identified but not investigated; Mr. Rafay, the president of a Canadian-Pakistani friendship organization was involved in work that called the placement of Canadian mosques into question; articles appeared in local ‘in house’ papers on the apostasy of people who held this view; that a friend of Mr. Rafay’s who was the next head of the Canadian-Pakistani friendship organization was shot dead in front of his house just before Sebastian and Atif’s trial in 2003; that a witness, an RCMP informant in Canada, warned of a potential hit on a Pakistani family that had moved to Bellevue, Washington from West Vancouver; that an FBI informant gave vital information to the Bellevue police as to the murder weapon and the individuals involved in the killing…this goes on but you get the idea that we didn’t just pick the motivation out of a hat. Still, it’s the cumulative effect and nothing definite that led to the theory.
      As to insurance money, that was the motive used in the trial against the defendants. Now this may have been suggested by Sebastian Burns during the months long sting by the RCMP but they did not hesitate to use it because no other motive existed. Sebastian might have said this because he had to satisfy the RCMP gangsters that he was ‘solid’.
      Finally, after 10 years I think I do know Atif very well. While you’d be right that no one could know that the Columbine killers would commit a crime like that, I’d say that if I knew Dylan Klebold for ten years, his instability might have jumped out at me at some point in the relationship. Atif is not a perfect being, but he is incapable of plotting a murder, just as I would safely say that about my own brother.

      • Thanks for your reply and for the info. Very interesting about the person targeted in BC.
        And I’m sure the Klebold family, despite being aware of their son’s emotional turbulence and tendency to problem solve, would have never thought him capable of murder either, almost two years in the making. Nor his friends.
        Anyway, I’m not trying to draw parallels between Klebold and Atif, but only wonder at the capacity of the human being to deceive, conceal and compartmentalize using religion, the military, intellectualism, power …

        • True. You never know anyone for certain, not even yourself, in the sense that you don’t know what you’re capable of doing in a particular situation. For good or ill.

          • Yes, especially when they are out of the original context (in this case, the duo dynamic).
            Researchers agree that Klebold would have not acted on his own.
            So when we contemplate of what Atif is capable, the answer may be different depending on the situation. I’m sure you’ve thought that over, however…

          • Reminds me of the film about Rumsfeld (or MacNamara?): “There are the unknown unknowns.” We have science and probability that work to some extent in the law. We also must admit to the possibility that we are wrong. And yet there are very few cases of wrongly convicted people being found to have committed the crime for which they were convicted because the standard for exoneration is so extremely high. There are people who have been exonerated and gone on to commit crimes, mainly because of their experiences in jail. Innocence projects try to stay away from people who show that negative potential because the reputation of the project would be significantly damaged or permanently destroyed.

      • I think the idea that Mrs. Rafay received threatening phone calls before the murders hurts you more than it helps you. Those phone calls would have made her keep the doors to the house locked especially at night but there were no signs of forced entry at the crime scene which points the finger of guilt to Atif and Sebastien since they had keys.

        • I think you’re making too many assumptions here. You might be right, but there are too many variables in most crimes, especially this one, to write with certainty about ‘the finger of guilt.’ “Why was there no forced entry?” is a legitimate question but the conclusion–that Atif and Sebastian had the keys–leaves out more than a dozen other possible scenarios. The simplest I can think of is forgetting to do something when force of habit takes over. Or thinking you’ve done something when you really haven’t. Or perhaps someone let them in or opened the door to speak to them?
          Something happened, unquestionably. The Rafay family, minus Atif, was savagely murdered. We know that. And the truth is that it was done in a particular way that we might never fully know. We do know that there were threats.

  11. Coincidentally, that Rumsfeld clip was used on a recent episode of The Current that featured an interview with a scientist-author who just wrote a book about our conception of “knowledge”. Perhaps you heard it too- is that what sparked your recollection ?
    I found it very interesting …

  12. I’m not even sure what the question is regarding the guilt of Burns and Rafay. I have been fascinated with this case from the beginning and just watched Dateline and Mr. Big. Burns tells the story with such a cavalier attitude, with Rafay laughing at the recollection of his sister as she was walking around waiting to die, there is no doubt in my mind. Those who believe the guys are innocent haven’t logically assessed the evidence.

    • Georgie,
      “Cavalier attitude” does not indicate the use of logic. “No doubt in my mind” does not appeal to logic either. We’ve tried to stay logical while admitting the difficulties of the case. One of the segments about a series of wrongful convictions on Netflix, coming out this summer, will, I believe, examine the case dispassionately.

  13. What gets me about the Mr big videotaped segments that I’ve seen (and I am aware that the public has viewed but a fraction of the Mr big recordings) is as a prior poster mentioned, the details of, and the demeanor with which the two recounted the “Story that has not been told before” concerning Rafay’s sister. Once Sebastian burns says that, rafay giggles – he knows what’s coming – he knows this story burns is going to tell. So is that A detail the two boys would have come up with prior to meeting with mr big that day merely to please Mr. Big – to merely appease this big boss out of fear – NO WAY. Rafay giggles because his sister , walking around aimlessly and confounded required some
    Extra BAT WORK – !!!?? And as the poster above said, the way he SAID it — there is no way in hell that that didn’t happen — Hallmark of truth. That’s what happened. Now Legally the confessions should never have come in and I believe The convictions should be overturned. But I do believe they are guilty. An then there’s that other pesky fact – renting videotapes the night of the murder at the hotel. If innocent, those two boys might have tried to get some alcohol, that I would accept,’or even some benzos to calm their nerves, but actually going to the store to rent videotapes. It’s not real evidence, not at all – but it does speak volumes as it is precisely what two remorseless murdering teens would do that night – one of those videos was a chevy chase movie, don’t forget. Come on! Last point – the two vs three killers theory based on the spattered pillow that was moved – could the third person evidenced by the lack of spatter be the sister who was “walking around”. Maybe, as her dad was being blugeoned in his bed, she grabbed the pillow to shield herself from the spatter during burns attack and stood in that area where no spatter is evident. Just a thought knowing the little I know from media and other online facts.

    • I have no problem with your ability to make conclusions; that’s probably the way the jury saw it. The strange thing about this case is that each piece of circumstantial ‘evidence’ is subject to pro or con interpretations. I do believe that the interpretations depend upon what you bring to the table beforehand. They are ‘prejudiced’ in the mild form of the word.
      It’s harder when one deals with forensic evidence. There’s less room for individual interpretation, although it still comes into play. The lack of forensics is more troubling to me.

      • Yes, people will want to measure someone else’s response by “what would I do”… this is an impossible game. What strikes me more is the choice of movie before the murders. The Lion King is a pretty odd choice for these two deep thinkers.

        On the same note – I’ve also wondered why the police and prosecutors wanted or needed to solve the Rafay murders so desperately. A Muslim family, recent arrivals from Canada – not exactly the “young white woman” kind of case that captures the attention of the press and the public. If the murders had gone cold, would there be the same kind of pressure ? I can’t imagine it…
        Ken, do you have any thoughts on why this became so important to solve ? It’s not like James Konat was a young upstart at that point.

        • I saw the Lion King when it came out too and I was in my late thirties. While the film was appealing to children, it was deep enough for adults to enjoy. That’s why the box office take was so big. Any type of mythological work has universal appeal.

          The multiple murders were so ghastly and so out of place in the community that the case became high profile. It still is in some ways. I always felt that the attitudes of Atif and Sebastian played a large role in the urgency of the case. They were perceived as arrogant and indifferent but one must remember that adolescents will often present themselves in ways that go against societal norms. My guess is that the police, especially an inexperienced detective like Bob Thompson, were determined to get the better of them. Tunnel vision has causes. Police perception of an individual can cause prejudice in the absence of solid evidence; hence circumstantial evidence is skewed against the unlikable suspect. So it’s not always the victims of crime that produce the urgency but the nature of the killers or the suspects.

  14. I admire your determination. Really. Everybody deserves representation and a fair review/appeal of their convictions.

    But IMO you’re also engaging in the type of speculative thinking that you’re asking your own viewers not to engage in, such as with reason #5, item #2 (the greed motive).

    Firstly, you ask your readers to wonder if murdering his family sounds like it’s worth a mere $500k?…..thus implying it’s not logical nor common to murder for such a low amount of money. But in reality, thousands of murders are done for far less than half a million dollars even when the motive is purely financial and not personal. This is especially true for younger murderers.

    Plus… When you consider the fact that Sebastian said he was unsatisfied with his mobster pay for delivering ‘stolen cars’ to the United States for Mr. Big (in the videos) it really shows how greedy he really was…..along with his fascination for making money while doing illegal activities which could land him in jail (despite you claiming that the Burns’ family is so rich that Sebastian should have had no financial worries).

    Also, telling Mr. Big’s mobsters that he wasn’t satisfied with the pay he received (for delivering the cars) doesn’t lend credibility to the theory that he FEARED Mr. Big and was terrified of him. A person who was TRULY terrified of Mr. Big wouldn’t be complaining about mobster pay to those very same mobsters.

    Plus…. Sebastian made the statement (to Mr. Big’s mobsters) that he could make more money stealing videos from his local video rental store, thus showing how greedy and desperate he seemed to be to make money without having to work for it honestly.

    These greedy statements by Sebastian certainly don’t prove murder, but they do contradict your explanation that Sebastian wasn’t greedy or that his family was so rich that it wasn’t logical for him to murder for money.

    Secondly, you make the point that the Burns’ family was far more wealthy than the Rafay family (e.g. they would have delivered a bigger estate/insurance payday for being murdered) along with the fact that there’s no death penalty in Canada.

    However, you fail to mention that his sister was not living at home in Canada with her parents and could not have been murdered easily along with the parents to give Sebastian his maximum inheritance.

    Secondly, his family in Canada did not have a mentally impaired person in the home who essentially could not even call 911 or do anything to assist her family during the murders (all it takes is one extra person to call 911 to make such a plan not feasible).

    Plus… Even if he got his sister to come back to Canada for a family dinner with her husband, that would have left extra NON MENTALLY IMPAIRED adults in the home (who could have called 911 or run out of the home and got help once the attack began).

    Oh… and that assumes Sebastian doesn’t have any other family members or siblings who might be present in the home in addition to his sister and her husband, which would add even more people to the room.

    Most importantly….. Your “Canada Theory” doesn’t take into account that by doing the murders in the United States nobody had to physically bludgeon their own parents (Sebastian was convicted of being the “bat man” because Atif was far too small and meek to take out his entire family with a bat). However, under your “Canada Theory” it would have been Sebastian who would have had to bludgeon his own parents face to face, which isn’t the same thing as killing non family members.

    Atif is far too tiny to do anything other than watch (I doubt he’d win a fist fight against a 90 year old granny, lol).

    Thus your conclusion that it would have been more logical to do the killings in Canada doesn’t really stand up to basic logic when all of the evidence is considered.

    I do agree that the Mr. Big confessions are not solid enough to force a conviction all by themselves though. But when I look at the totality of circumstantial evidence, I’d have still convicted them both myself.

    Part of being on a jury means using your own life experiences and basic common sense when evaluating circumstantial evidence which could be interpreted in different ways (juries are allowed to use common sense to evaluate evidence).

    The movie theater alibi isn’t really air tight and it’s certainly not much of a leap to assume that they left a darkened movie theater and returned. It’s not as if it takes a rocket scientist to leave a darkened movie theater and come back. It’s a rather simple plan, not very sophisticated.

    But I do respect your determination in representing them.

    • You’ve taken a lot of time, Michael, so I’d like to answer over a period of time as well. Much of what you. Say is factually incorrect although your conclusion–that they are guilty as charged–is a matter of opinion. I will deal with your final point first: No one ever said that they returned to the theater, in fact no one saw them leave the theater, either before or after the end of the film. While it would have helped the defense if someone had seen them leave after the film, we don’t usually notice people when we leave the cinema in the dark or even in the lobby.

    • With respect to Sebastian’s supposed greed, I would consider the circumstances under which he spoke of that as a motive. He’s speaking to people that he thinks are mobsters, gangland types, so he needs to convince them that he is ‘solid’ and he needs to do it with as much bravado as possible. What he is saying, therefore, is part of an act, and cannot be taken as one might take a confession to a police officer. (And even those confessions can be dubious.)

  15. I have only 1 observation to make. Those who want to review the legality if not the morality; of the confessions can Google Burns v Warner. In a decision upheld by the liberal 9th circuit; Judge Marsha Pechman; a federal judge; goes through Burns’s claims and rejects each one in detail. She of course takes care to opine everybody is entitled to their opinion; but I firmly believe her arguments against coercion are persuasive. Her opinion as a federal judge carries a lot of weight. I’m not saying her legal opinion confirms guilt. The centerpiece of the legal arguments has been that the confessions were illegally obtained by coercion. But thus far the trial court; the state appeal court; the federal habeas judge; and the liberal 9th circuit who routinely reverse criminal cases; have found that the confessions were given voluntarily and of their own free will. As Pechman roughly said; Burns was free to stay or leave; he was not a naive young kid; and after watching the tapes she; a highly decorated and revered federal jurist was struck by how calm he was and she saw nothing demonstrating fear as he laughed at killing 3 people. It may well be that jurors can be blinded by emotion; which is why we have federal judges appointed for life who discard emotion and sentiment; and issue decisions with dispassion and lack of bias.

    • Interesting comments, William. I appreciate what you’ve said.
      Rubin Carter was fond of saying that “The death penalty is the perfect punishment but perfection has no place in a system that is run by human beings.” So, yes, people of great weight and moral authority can weigh in and rule but, because they weren’t at the murder scene or the interrogation, can easily be mistaken. The legal system is run by people.
      Months of videotape of Sebastian Burns were taken by the RCMP; what the jury and the judge saw was a distillation; none of Burns’s denials appeared on the tapes, only the so-called confession. Neither Burns nor Rafay made those confessions of their own free will. Even confessions made to the police and sanctioned by Miranda rights can be false. We see this over and over in wrongful conviction cases.
      Finally, have you ever seen bravado in a teenager? It doesn’t look like fear but it may mask it. Judge Warner and the whole post-conviction system has one purpose: sustain the conviction (unless evidence to the contrary (e.g. DNA) is overwhelming.

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