facts of the case
A Horrible Discovery
At dusk on July 12, 1994, Dr. Tariq Rafay,
his wife Sultana and their daughter Basma were viciously
bludgeoned in their home in the quiet suburb of Bellevue,
Washington. Four hours later, after dinner, a movie and a
late-night snack, Atif Rafay, the son of Tariq and Sultana,
returned home with Sebastian Burns, a close friend who was
then a guest of the Rafay's, to discover a horrific scene.
Numb with shock, Sebastian Burns called 911 and, terrified
that the killer or killers might still be in the house, the
two boys fled into the street to await the arrival of the
police. Within moments a police cruiser passed the house,
unable to find the correct address. Burns and Rafay chased
after it, pounding on a window to get it to stop.
Police who entered the Rafay home following
the murders were shocked and disturbed by the horrible, bloody
crime scene. Sultana Rafay was killed by a fatal blow to
the head. Basma Rafay was injured and died later in hospital,
having suffered repeated blows to the head and body. Dr.
Rafay lay in bed, his head completely crushed by a blunt
object. The walls, floor and ceiling of his bedroom were
covered in blood, bone, teeth and tissue. Tremendous amounts
of blood were tracked throughout the property--in the carpets,
on the walls, in the downstairs bathroom and in a series
of footprints in the garage.
Sebastian and Atif Cooperate With Police
In the hours and days that followed the murders,
Sebastian Burns and Atif Rafay accompanied the Bellevue Police
for extensive questioning, provided them with their clothing,
shoes and, in Atif's case, eyeglasses, and allowed police
to perform searches of their bodies and affects using a specialized
light designed to detect blood in miniscule quantities. They
allowed the Bellevue police to fingerprint, photograph them
and subject them to a gunshot residue test. Sebastian Burns
and Atif Rafay did not deny a single police request during
these days and neither exercised their Miranda right to counsel.
Atif signed a search warrant and gave investigators his password
so they could search his computer. After the murders Sebastian
Burns and Atif Rafay were in Bellevue for 56 hours, spending
almost all their waking hours with the Bellevue police.
None of these tests, searches or interviews
revealed any incriminating evidence. When not with the Bellevue
Police, the two boys, at the behest of police, stayed in
a dingy room at the since-demolished Bellevue Motel where
they were given little opportunity for sleep. Neither teenager
was offered any grief counseling or support.
Police Lies Fed to the Media
On July 15, 1994 the Canadian Consulate in
Seattle obtained explicit permission from the Bellevue Police
Department to return the boys to Sebastian's parents' home
in Vancouver, Canada. The Rafay family had only recently
moved from Vancouver to Bellevue, and Vancouver was home
to both Sebastian and Atif. Despite their full cooperation
with the Bellevue Police and their escorted and legal return
to Canada, the Bellevue Police soon decided they were prime
suspects and labeled them fugitives. Then they told journalists
in both countries a series of lies:
- That Sebastian and Atif had behaved strangely
on the night of the murders and the following days, thereby
- That they had failed to show emotion after
finding the Rafay family murdered;
- That they did not cooperate with the police
- That they purposefully missed the funeral;
- That they "fled" to
After observing the foul play of investigators
at the Bellevue Police Department, friends, family and legal
counsel for Sebastian Burns and Atif Rafay recommended that
they remain in their home country--Canada.
For more information, see the Did
they flee? page of this web site.
Evidence Exonerates Sebastian and Atif
In the days, weeks and months that followed,
the Bellevue Police Department examined the physical evidence
at the crime scene and carefully determined the circumstantial
evidence by interviewing numerous witnesses and the neighbors
on both sides of the Rafay home. Contrary to the investigators'
initial theory, all the evidence pointed away from Sebastian
Burns and Atif Rafay. Here are the reasons why:
- The neighbors independently confirmed that
the murders happened when the boys were known to be elsewhere;
- The examination of the physical matter at
the crime scene failed to produce any incriminating evidence;
- No blood, bone or tissue was found on either
boy's body or clothing that could possibly suggest involvement
in the murders.
Even after all the physical and circumstantial
evidence produced by investigators exonerated Sebastian Burns
and Atif Rafay, lead detectives on the case persisted in
their belief that they were guilty.
Physical and Circumstantial Evidence Points
to Other Killers
But the physical evidence demonstrated even
more than their innocence: it demonstrated that at least
three people, none of them Sebastian Burns or Atif Rafay,
were responsible for the murders. This is confirmed by DNA
found at the crime scene and by the State's own analysis
of the blood spatter in Dr. Rafay's bedroom.
Investigators found physical evidence at the crime scene that they believed
must have been left by the killers. This key evidence was tested and
re-tested, but was found to only contain DNA that did not belong to
Sultana Rafay, Basma Rafay, Tariq Rafay, Sebastian Burns or Atif Rafay.
These key pieces of evidence are:
- A coarse body hair or pubic hair found
on Dr. Rafay's fitted sheet;
- DNA in the downstairs shower mixed with
Dr. Rafay's blood;
- DNA in a footprint in the garage mixed
with Dr. Rafay's blood.
Blood Spatter Evidence:
Ross Gardner, the state's expert who examined the blood spatter evidence,
concluded both in his report and in trial that at least three people
were in Dr. Rafay's bedroom while blows were being struck. While on
the stand, this expert said, "I cannot explain the stains in any other
The Bellevue investigators didn't just have
physical evidence telling them other people murdered the
Rafays: they also received three independent tips, all vetted
by other law enforcement agencies, that clearly implicate
other parties and other motives, among them Islamic extremism.
Dr. Rafay Had Enemies
Dr. Rafay was a prominent Sunni Muslim who
was active in his religious and cultural community, first
in Vancouver, then in Bellevue. He was co-founder and President
of the Canadian-Pakistan Friendship Organization and he published
a paper and developed a controversial computer program indicating
Muslims in British Columbia weren't facing Mecca when they
About a month after the murders, an FBI informant
told Bellevue investigators that a Muslim cleric in Seattle
had ordered Dr. Rafay killed because of his teachings of
the Koran. This informant also believed a baseball bat was
the murder weapon, which in fact it was. He provided this
information at a time when Bellevue investigators knew a
baseball bat was one of the murder weapons, but before this
fact was made public. Incredibly, the Bellevue Police Department
did not investigate this or two other tips they received
shortly after the murders were committed.
For more information, see the Other
Suspects page of this web site.
Similar Murder: Unsolved
Back in 1994, Bellevue investigators obviously
didn't believe murders could be motivated by ideas or religious
extremism. They probably thought it was more likely a family
member was responsible. But tragic events continue to suggest
Islamic extremism remains a threat both domestically and
abroad: in January 2003, Riasat Ali Khan, a close friend
of Dr. Rafay and also a former president of the Canadian-Pakistan
Friendship Organization, was murdered outside his home in
Vancouver, BC. His murder remains unsolved.
Illegal Undercover Operation
Nine months after the murders, frustrated by
the lack of evidence suggesting the guilt of Sebastian Burns
or Atif Rafay and uninterested in evidence implicating other
parties, the Bellevue Police Department obtained the assistance
of the RCMP. In response, the RCMP chose to initiate an undercover
sting operation that is illegal in the United States. Although
legal in Canada, these tactics are also known to have elicited
false confessions from other teenagers suspected of murder.
In this undercover operation, known in Canada
as "Mr. Big", two undercover officers made the acquaintance
of Sebastian Burns. They then revealed their phony identities
as violent criminals and coerced Sebastian's involvement
in their group by putting him in the position of "knowing
too much". Using threats of death and violence, promises,
and even pretending to have underworld connections to the
investigation in Bellevue, these police officers coerced
false confessions from Sebastian Burns, Atif Rafay and their
friend Jimmy Miyoshi. All three were subsequently arrested.
For more information, see the False
Confessions page of this web site.
Later, the RCMP threatened Jimmy Miyoshi with
a charge of Conspiracy to Commit Murder, even suggesting
to him that he may face the death penalty if he did not tell
the police that Sebastian Burns and Atif Rafay were guilty.
Jimmy Miyoshi signed an immunity agreement and provided the
RCMP with a number of statements. Every single statement
contradicts the last and each one contradicts the physical
evidence at the crime scene. At trial Jimmy Miyoshi, who
lives in Japan, refused to return to North America to testify.
Instead, a deposition recorded months earlier was shown to
Before giving this video-taped deposition in
court, Jimmy Miyoshi phoned Sebastian Burns' lawyer, Jeff
Robinson, and asked him for help. Jeff Robinson could not
do anything for him because Jimmy was a witness for the prosecution.
When Mr. Robinson asked about this call during his deposition,
Jimmy Miyoshi lied, claiming he contacted Jeff Robinson because
he feared Sebastian Burns and Atif Rafay.
These confessions and the statements provided
by Jimmy Miyoshi are not merely unreliable, having been coerced
by threats and promises. These confessions are false.
How do we know these confessions are false?
They are proven false beyond a reasonable doubt because every
material element of the confessions is refuted by the evidence
obtained by the state. The material elements determined by
the state's own experts (arrived at both during the investigation
and in trial) that do not match the confessions include:
- The number of killers (state's expert concluded
at least 3 killers);
- The identity of a murder weapon (wounds
on Dr. Rafay's neck show a sharp object was used in the
- The timing of the murders (two independent
witnesses confirm the murders were definitely over by 10:15
- The use of gloves (state's expert said in
a pre-trial interview that he would have found glove marks
at the scene if gloves were used--he didn't find any);
- Details of Basma Rafay's attack (state's
expert concluded Basma moved from her bed to the floor--she
never walked around as the newspaper reports and later
the confessions claimed);
- Movement of the murderers in the house (blood
evidence shows the killers were in the garage).
These details were not known by Sebastian Burns
or Atif Rafay at the time of the RCMP undercover operation
because they weren't public knowledge and because Sebastian
Burns and Atif Rafay are not the killers. The only possible
explanation for the serious and numerous discrepancies between
the confessions and the evidence is that the confessions
These "confessions" are false by definition:
they are inconsistent with the facts of the case--facts that
were determined by the prosecution's own experts. But the
manner in which Sebastian Burns and Atif Rafay told these
stories also tells us they are false: each boy's confession
is internally inconsistent and each contradicts the other's
confession regarding what Sebastian was wearing, what they
did with the incriminating evidence and where they obtained
the murder weapon. Sebastian Burns and Atif Rafay couldn't
keep their stories straight.
Even more importantly, these "confessions" do
not contain any additional information that only the killers
One question remains--if innocence is so clear,
why did twelve people decide to convict Sebastian Burns and
Atif Rafay, condemning them to life in prison? Probably because
the jury's understanding of this case was incomplete. The
trial judge ruled key evidence inadmissible: the jury was
not permitted to learn about the lead provided by an FBI
informant or another lead provided by the Intelligence Division
of the Seattle Police--a lead also pointing to religious
extremists. Despite the fact that these leads were not investigated
by the Bellevue Police Department, they can be related to
one another. Considered together, they provide an overwhelming
answer to the question of who committed these murders.
The jury was also not permitted to hear from
Dr. Richard A Leo, a professor at the University of California
and a leading expert on the phenomenon of false confessions.
Dr. Leo agreed to present information on what he describes
as the "highly counter-intuitive phenomenon of false confessions
and how and why police investigators sometimes elicit them
from people of normal or superior intelligence." According
to Dr. Leo's Declaration to the Court, the purpose of this
testimony was "to provide the jury with relevant and reliable
social scientific information about the psychological phenomenon
of interrogation and false confessions so that the jury can
make a more informed decision when deciding the factual issue
of the reliability of the defendants' admissions in this
Instead of allowing this expert testimony,
the judge determined that it was "the province of this jury
to decide whether or not in their common experience and common
sense these statements made by these defendants to those
undercover police officers are voluntary or involuntary …" This
committee suggests that police officers posing as violent
murderers to 19-year-old boys could not possibly be part
of the common experience or common sense of any jury, and
that is why jurors in this trial and many others are unable
to distinguish real confessions from false ones.
Furthermore, the judge in this trial
did not adhere to his own decision to ensure that the videotaped
statements made by Burns and Rafay were judged by the jury
alone. During trial the undercover police officers were
permitted to deconstruct and analyze Sebastian Burns' behavior
during the undercover operation. While on the stand, they
repeatedly told the jury that an innocent person would
not behave as Sebastian did during the sting. Why did the
judge allow the very operators of the undercover sting
to masquerade as experts on how innocent people respond
to their menacing and coercive tactics? Why didn't the
judge allow a genuine expert, with no interest in the outcome
of the trial, to inform the jury of how innocent people
actually respond to police tactics such as these? In reality,
these officers were not providing expertise--they were
validating their operation and their tactics. In a fair
trial, the defense would have been allowed to introduce
an expert to respond to the undercover police officers'
inexpert, self-serving and subjective interpretations of
the defendant's behaviour and psychology.
Innocence is Proven Beyond a Reasonable
The prosecution in this trial managed to convince
the jury that Sebastian Burns and Atif Rafay were arrogant,
brilliant monsters capable of planning and executing the
perfect murder. We ask you, in this age of scientific analyses
of crime scenes:
- Could two 18-year-olds remove all the minute
physical evidence of a bludgeoning from their own bodies,
from their car and from a horrifically bloody crime scene?
- Could they fabricate evidence at the crime
scene indicating at least three people were responsible?
- Would they be able to coerce statements
from numerous witnesses to confirm an air-tight alibi?
- Could they possibly plant other people's
DNA at the crime scene?
- Would they have the power to plant leads
before and after the murders indicating the involvement
of violent religious extremists?
- Would these same brilliant 18-year-olds
then be fooled by two undercover Canadian police officers
pretending to be violent criminals?
Of course not. That
is why Sebastian Burns
and Atif Rafay are innocent.
THIS PAGE IS A WORK IN PROGRESS. We guarantee
that all information on this web site in accurate, based
on trial transcripts, transcripts of pre-trial hearings,
reliable newspaper reports or first-hand accounts. However,
as we continue to investigate the facts of this case we will
be adding detail and information to this and other pages.