Words of Victor Frankl regarding the Rafay/Burns case.

One of the main arguments against Atif Rafay and Sebastian Burns by the Washington appeal courts centers on the demeanor of Sebastian Burns while he is supposedly confessing to the RCMP gangsters. He doesn’t appear to be fearful or distressed; therefore his lawyers must be wrong about him being coerced through fear into making the confessions. I have already made the argument that you can’t judge a book by its cover, i.e. you can’t know what is inside a person’s head by the way she or he behaves on the surface. You can only guess. For that reason alone, the arguments against the appeal are worse than suspect, they are invalid. They are a legal disgrace.

Another argument against the two teens (as they were at the time) is their inappropriate behavior in general after the killings of the Rafay family. Rather than a legal argument, it was the perception of their behavior in the media at the memorial for Rafay’s family. It appeared infantile at best. Nor were they models of decorum–neighbors found them “obnoxious”–when they moved into a shared residence with friends in West Vancouver. But here is a quote that I found upon rereading Victor Frankl’s great work, “Man’s search For Meaning”.

ABNORMAL REACTIONS TO AN ABNORMAL SITUATION IS NORMAL BEHAVIOR.

Frankl was referring to the behavior of oppressed people in concentration camps who are in the category of wrongly convicted persons. They did things they never would have done had they not been starving to death and constantly beaten. They were not bad people but people in dire circumstances. I think people might also give Atif and Sebastian the benefit of the doubt when it comes to surface behavior. They had witnessed the aftermath of a bloodbath which would be bad enough if they didn’t know the victims. This was, however, the family of Atif Rafay! Their abnormal behavior, under the circumstances, is completely understandable.

It irks me when I hear people talk about their behavior as the clinching argument for their guilt. Anything but! If they had been purely calculating, they never would have behaved in that way. That is why, on The Confession Tapes, I described them as “two goofballs in a state of shock”. How do any of us act in violent and completely abnormal situations? Why do soldiers suffer from PTSD? Does anyone really know what a soldier goes through after enduring sights that the rest of us never have to see, like bodies blown to pieces in a marketplace? What would YOU do if you came upon your family bludgeoned to death? You don’t know until it happens and God forbid it ever does.

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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."

4 thoughts on “Words of Victor Frankl regarding the Rafay/Burns case.

  1. I completely agree. I’ve read so many arguments from those convinced of their guilt based on their behavior. I am their age and was a college student at the time of the murders. Every last guy I knew lived like Atif and Sebastian. Slept all day, up all night, played loud music, party animal teenagers. This is typical teenage guy behavior.

    They DID NOT actively seek out a “gangster lifestyle” – they were targeted and placed in these scenarios specifically designed to lure them, after being ostracized in their community due to the false stories the police fed to the media. The RCMP preyed on this weakness, with the help of the Bellevue Police Department and they really had no way out.

    There is no script to follow after witnessing such an enormous personal trauma. And their behavior after the fact was probably an attempt at restoring normalcy. How so many refuse to see this is astounding to me.

    • Good article – thanks for the link! I can’t even bring myself to dive into the Dassey case. I’ve been so consumed with the Rafay/Burns ordeal since learning of it that I don’t think my brain could handle anything else.

      So many people who believe their guilt fail to consider the psychological impact, and their vulnerability after experiencing such an emotionally traumatic event. And so many jump on the fact that they were legal adults at the time. Even in Burns v Warner, Sebastian’s habeas petition (I think) – the judges point out, TWICE, that he was nearly 20 years old at the time of the “confession” in July 1995. It’s as if they assume people become impervious to these tactics the minute they turn 18. It’s splitting hairs, really.

      • I’d also say, in response, that in my experience, the 18-25 age range is when young men engage in the riskiest and most mindless of endeavours. It is not an age of maturity. Ask many parents and they’ll tell you the same: a young man is lucky to make it through those years in one piece. At the age of 18, you have the very definition of sophomoric, know it all and contempt for adults. At the upper range, there is great physical strength without the good sense to keep it under control.

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