West Vancouver killers lose U.S. appeal

Court upholds first-degree murder conviction in horrific 1994 triple homicide

A Washington State appeals court has rejected a bid by two former West Vancouver men to overturn their convictions for three brutal murders.

In a decision Monday, a panel of three appeal court judges upheld the original verdicts finding Atif Rafay and Sebastian Burns each guilty of three counts of first-degree murder in the 1994 killings of Rafay's father, mother and autistic sister in the Rafays' Seattle-area home.

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The former West Vancouver high school friends - now 36 - are each serving three consecutive life sentences for the murders.

Prosecutors in the original trial said Burns wielded an aluminum bat used in the murders, while Rafay planned the killings in order to receive a $300,000 inheritance.

The case against the pair was mostly circumstantial. Videotaped confessions to the murders made during a controversial RCMP sting operation after the pair returned to Canada were a crucial part of the case.

Last year, defence lawyers for the two men asked the appeal court to overturn the original verdict, saying the men were not given an adequate chance to defend themselves and that their confessions were coerced.

But on Monday, the appeal court judges said they did not agree, writing, "Substantial evidence supports the trial court's finding that these confessions were voluntary."

The appeal court judges noted that during the RCMP undercover sting, dubbed "Project Estate," Rafay and Burns repeatedly pursued their contacts with undercover officers. The judges said the pair had also not established they had any special mental deficiencies or emotional conditions that left them unusually vulnerable to coercive techniques.

The judges added the hours of audio and video recordings in the case allowed the jury to view the confessions in context, which included "their jovial delight in revealing certain details about the murders and Rafay's calm explanation that his feelings about killing his parents and sister were tempered by the fact that 'it was necessary to . . . achieve what I wanted to achieve in this life. . . .'"

The appeal court also rejected other grounds for overturning the verdict argued by the defence. Those included lack of access to a speedy trial, the original trial judge's refusal to allow evidence about other potential suspects in the case, a refusal to allow the defence to present expert witnesses in the area of false confessions and closing comments by one of the prosecutors who compared the killing of the Rafays to the beheading of an American in Iraq.

While concluding the prosecutor's comments were "entirely gratuitous", the appeal court determined "there was no substantial likelihood" his words would affect the outcome of the trial.

jseyd@nsnews.com

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