Bellevue murder trial begins after long delay

SEATTLE — Nine years after the bludgeoned bodies of three people were found in their Bellevue home, the son of the family and his best friend go to trial today on three counts of aggravated first-degree murder.

The friend, Sebastian Burns, called police early July 13, 1994, to report that he and Atif Rafay had returned from a night out to find Rafay’s parents had been killed.

"There’s blood. They’re not breathing," he said. He did not mention Rafay’s 19-year-old sister Basma, who died of her injuries hours later.

Rafay’s mother, nutritionist Sultana Rafay, apparently never heard the attacker who struck her twice from behind as she unpacked boxes in the basement.

Rafay’s father, structural engineer Tariq Rafay, was killed in his bed. He apparently did not move during the "grotesquely gratuitous" violence of the attack, according to charging papers.

Basma Rafay, who was autistic, had defensive wounds on her hands, wrists and forearms. Rafay later told police he heard his sister moaning when he and Burns got to the house but was sure he couldn’t save her. He said he "never really liked her" and that she was "gross," charging papers say.

Prosecutors allege the attack was motivated by greed, that the defendants expected to profit from sale of the Rafay home and an insurance policy.

Defense attorneys are expected to argue that authorities did not consider other suspects.

Rafay’s parents, both 56, moved into the home in March 1994. Tariq Rafay had found a job in the area two years earlier, but for a time commuted from Vancouver, B.C., where the family had immigrated from Pakistan, as he sought steady work.

Atif Rafay, fresh from his first year at Cornell University, had been visiting Burns and other friends in Vancouver. On July 7, he and Burns — both 18 at the time — traveled to Bellevue by bus to visit the Rafays.

On July 12, they told police, they went out for the evening — to a movie, "The Lion King," and a club — and found the victims when they returned to the house early July 13.

Burns, now 28, and Rafay, now 27, returned to Canada two days after the killings on July 15, 1994 — the day relatives gathered for a memorial service.

By January 1995, authorities had identified them as suspects. In August 1995, they were arrested in Canada — the same month the family estate, valued at about $300,000, was turned over to Rafay.

DNA evidence from the scene links Burns to the crime, according to charging papers filed at that time, and a friend of the defendants from high school has said they admitted the killings to him.

The two young men have been in custody since their arrests, but it took six years, until March 2001, to return them to the United States. Aggravated murder carries just two penalties — execution or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Canada opposes the death penalty, and the defendants were extradited only after King County prosecutor Norm Maleng agreed not to seek it.

Key evidence was gathered by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Tactics they used, including the planting of listening devices in the defendants’ house and car, would not have been allowed in the United States.

In October, King County Superior Court Judge Charles Mertel cleared use of the material on grounds that the tactics are legal in Canada.

During their four-month investigation, undercover RCMP officers posed as criminals with a moneymaking scheme that would enrich the two men. The officers said they wanted to hear about the defendants’ criminal pasts to ensure Burns and Rafay could be trusted.

In an audio tape made July 18, 1995, and summarized in the charging papers, Burns and Rafay admit planning the killings and leaving the movie to execute their plan.

Burns beat the victims to death with a bat, they said — stripped down to underpants to avoid soiling his clothes. Asked why he alone swung the bat, Burns said, "I felt like I was capable," noting he is bigger and stronger than Rafay.

They can be heard laughing as they describe Rafay’s sister standing up and walking around her room during the attack.

After the killings, they said, they staged a break-in at the house, drove to Seattle to dump the bat and gloves they had worn in various dumpsters, and went to a restaurant before returning to the house to "discover" the bodies.

Burns said things could have turned out better, but that "personally, I think I’m a lot happier than if it didn’t happen."

Rafay described the deaths as a "sacrifice," saying the killings were "necessary to achieve what I wanted to achieve in this life."

Getting the case to trial also was slowed by Rafay’s difficulties with defense attorneys.

And in August 2002, a jail guard reported he had witnessed Burns having sex with public-defender attorney Theresa Olson in a jail conference room.

Copyright ©2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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