Confessions questioned at 1994 Bellevue triple-murder appeal


by ERIC WILKINSON / KING 5 News and Associated Press

Posted on July 8, 2011 at 7:24 PM

Updated Friday, Jul 8 at 7:38 PM

SEATTLE -- Two men who were arrested in Vancouver, British Columbia, and convicted of a 1994 triple killing in Bellevue hope a Washington state appeals court throws out a recorded confession that led to sentences of life in prison without parole. A state appeals court heard arguments from their attorneys Friday.

Sebastian Burns and Atif Rafay were 18-years-old when Rafay's parents and sister were beaten to death with baseball bats at their home.

After the murders, Canadian investigators posed as mobsters interested in recruiting the two suspects into organized crime. The tactic, known north of the border as "Mr. Big," seeks to entice confessions.

They showed Burns a fake memo from Bellevue Police indicating he and Rafay were about to be arrested. The phony mobster said he could get them off the hook if they'd tell all about the murders. If they didn't play along, they might be killed.

Defense attorneys say it left Burns handcuffed.

"At some point the decision is made for him because he really has no logical choice but to confess," said attorney David Koch.

Defense also points to statements made by embattled prosecutor James Konut comparing the Bellevue killings to the terrorist beheading of a U.S. hostage in Iraq just a week and a half earlier.

"He wanted these jurors, every time they thought about the Rafay family, he wanted them to also think of the beheading of Nick Berg," said Koch.

Defense attorneys also argue that DNA points to other possible suspects and that experts weren't allowed to testify about the likelihood of coerced confessions.

"The trial was over-weighted in the favor of the prosecution because the RCMP was allowed to go on and on about their methodology and expert witnesses were not allowed to question that methodology and why it may lead to a false confession," said Ken Klonsky with The Innocence Network.

But prosecutors said it all comes down to overwhelming evidence pointing to Burns and Rafay

"As the saying goes, you can't make this stuff up," said prosecutor Deborah Dwyer.

It could take six months to find out if Rafay and Burns will get a new trial.

Sebastian Burns' sister has also produced a film proclaiming her brother's innocence.