Atif Rafay and Sebastian Burns, still trying to prove themselves innocent of a notorious Bellevue triple-murder back in 1994, have finally gotten some good news. A provincial appeals court in Canada has discredited the "Mr. Big" sting technique that was the centerpiece of the evidence against them.
See also: My Brother Got Burned
You may recalls that Burns' sister, Tiffany, made a documentary about Mr. Big. Popular in Canada, the method involves undercover Mounties acting like thugs, who pretend to be recruiting their suspects into criminal organizations.
Then a head head honcho (aka Mr. Big) comes in at the end to lure the suspects into talking about their supposed crimes. Thanks to hidden videotapes, the so-called "confessions" become Exhibit A in criminal prosecutions.
Rafay and Burns, college students suspected of killing Rafay's parents and sister for insurance money, landed in a Mr. Big sting while the pair were living in Vancouver B.C., Burns' hometown.
Another target of a Mr. Big operation was Nelson Hart, suspected of pushing his twin three-year-old daughters into a lake in 2002. Three years later, according to a ruling this week by the Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court of Appeal, the Mounties set up a ruse to pull him in.
The ruling describes Hart as a "weak and vulnerable person." Not only did he have epilepsy, but he had only a 5th grade education, no friends and was so poor that he couldn't at one point afford a bed. The undercover Mounties gave him a fake grunt job with their fake organization and soon he was traveling around Canada, staying at luxurious hotels and eating at fine restaurants. Then, they brought in the "big boss" for an interview. The ruling says what happened next:
At that interview, Mr. Big employed coercive techniques by presenting implicit threats (of termination of Mr. Hart's new lifestyle) and promises, rejected any (innocent) explanations that did not involve the admission he was seeking, and continued to accuse him of lying until Mr. Hart agreed with the assertions Mr. Big was putting to him.
It was all a "dishonest trick," the Canadian court ruled, and one that not only overrode Hart's right to silence but created the risk of a false confession.
For that reason, and the court's judgment that the public should have been excluded during Hart's testimony, due to his epilepsy, the judges ordered a new trial.
Please find more, including copy of the Hart ruling, on the following page.
The Canadian court "has no jurisdiction of course in the U.S.," comments Ken Klonsky, a spokesperson for Canada's Innocence International, one of several innocence groups that has taken up the cause of Rafay and Burns. (He's also the author of new novel inspired in part by the Rafay/Burns case.) Still, he says he expects that their attorneys will be able to use the arguments made by the Canadian court.
Indeed, Rafay attorney David Koch says he is sending the decision to the state Supreme Court with a petition to review his client's case. That follows a ruling by the state Appeals Court in June, upholding Rafay's and Burns' guilty verdicts. Burns has also filed an appeal with the state Supreme Court, and the Hart ruling is being submitted on his behalf too, according to Koch.
Rafay's and Burns' case tracks closely with the Hart's. The college kids weren't as vulnerable as Hart, but they were young and under suspicion by police. The undercover Mounties, who recruited the men for purported illegal activities, told the pair they could make the Bellevue police case against them go away--but only if they spilled the complete story.
They told a story, anyway, of them doing what was "necessary" and "sacrificing" Burns' family. Whether it was complete, or truthful, remains open to question.