The above is the official description of what public defender Theresa Olson and triple-murder suspect Sebastian Burns did or didn’t do during a “face to face” visit in a King County Jail interview room August 10.
Olson, 43, the feisty, big-haired attorney in the colorful homemade suits, and the tall, muscular Burns, 26—accused with friend Atif Rafay of murdering three members of Rafay’s Bellevue family in 1994—are presumed to have had sex, since jail officers say they walked in on the twosome in the midst of an act that clearly went beyond attorney-client privilege.
That led to removal last week of Olson and her defense team from the murder case and launched a bar association investigation. The much- admired Olson could face disbarment.
It also resulted in a wave of speculation along the streets, in local hangouts, and around law office water coolers.
Attorneys and clients have been known to have sex before, despite strict rules against it. But that was usually in the privacy of their own home, motel, or backseat.
How, exactly, do an attorney and inmate have sex in a tiny space within the midst of a high-security jail, surrounded by cameras and watched by guards?
The conference room is a small, irregularly shaped enclosure, with one narrow window, about 3.6 inches by three feet, in the door. Much of the interior is obscured to passersby, though guards have a better view from a nearby jail tier.
“From up there, you can see inside from a wider angle,” says jail spokesperson Jim Harms. But what did officers see?
King County Superior Court Judge Charles Mertel says there was “sufficient evidence” of a dangerous liaison. But, concerned about effects the incident might have on the already long-delayed murder trial, he said the public didn’t really need to know what the evidence was.
He allowed the jail to release its officer reports on the incident. But he deleted what one custody officer referred to as “the good parts.”
For example, from a redacted report by a jail sergeant: “Officer [blank] looked into the room and said ‘they’re still doing it Sarge.’ I looked through the window and observed Ms. Theresa Olson and inmate Burns holding each other. Ms. Olson was standing facing the door [blank, for the next four lines] . . . I said to Ms. Olson ‘what’s going on!’ . . . She said ‘I was giving him a hug and it got a little out of hand.'”
You pretty much have to imagine what went on. Which is the problem. The judge’s deletions may have had the opposite of his intended effect, as such censorship usually does.
When left to fill in the blanks, especially where sex or expletives have been deleted, a reader often imagines it to be nastier than it was. In a culture saturated with sex, we’re a nation of dirty minds.
It’s like Nixon’s expurgations of the Watergate conversations. In one, he said “I mean [expletive deleted], what in the hell were these people doing?” Did he say shit, piss, fuck—or gloriosky?
Other portions of the jail reports likewise welcomed a lot of heavy- breathing imagination to fill in the blanks.
“I could see Ms. Olson facing the window in the door of the side interview room [blank, two lines] and I could see that inmate Burns was [blank, several words].”
“When we were on the upper tier . . . I was able to see Ms. Olson facing the window [blank, one line] and inmate Burns [blank, several words].”
“As Officer [blank] opened the conference room door, I observed the dress which was worn by Theresa Olson [blank, several words].”
“[An officer] observed both inmate Burns and Ms. Olson [blank, maybe five words]. As Sgt. [blank] entered the room, both proceeded to cover themselves.”
The simple reality? They were standing and bending in a corner, officers tell me, disrobed no more than necessary, having sexual intercourse and trying to muffle their sounds while keeping an eye on the door.
You get the picture. But is yours better than mine?