COLUMN: It’s decision day for Burns and Rafay, again
Sebastian Burns and Atif Rafay have spent nearly two decades behind bars for a horrific crime they say they didn’t commit.
On Thursday (March 7), the former West Vancouver residents are slated to learn if the Washington State Supreme Court will review their failed bid to overturn their 2004 triple-murder convictions.
Last month a panel of five judges heard their petition for a review but didn’t reach a unanimous decision. When there’s a less-than-unanimous vote, either for or against granting a review, the case is then heard “en banc,” which means all nine justices of the court vote on it.
To have their case considered for a review Burns and Rafay need a majority to vote in favour.
The pair are each serving 99-year life sentences inside Washington State prisons for the murder of Rafay’s parents and autistic sister inside their suburban Seattle home in 1994.
Since the start, they’ve adamantly maintained their innocence.
Through the years the high-profile case has been the subject of a book and prime-time TV series.
In recent years, the pair has received support from the well-known Canadian-based Innocence International, which is led by Dr. Rubin “Hurricane” Carter.
A former boxer who spent nearly two decades in prison after being wrongfully convicted for a triple homicide, Carter is the subject of a movie starring Denzel Washington and song by Bob Dylan.
Last July, Burns and Rafay were finally granted the opportunity to argue for a new trial in the Washington State Court of Appeals.
A number of issues were raised by their legal counsel, most notably the controversial tactics used to gather evidence during the RCMP’s undercover sting operation, known as Mr. Big.
The appeal was denied by a panel of three judges.
Ken Klonsky, a member of Innocence International, is guarded about the pending decision on March 7.
“The one positive in this upcoming decision on whether the state supreme court will take up the case, is that at least one judge must have already ruled in their favour,” he wrote in an email. “The first panel was five judges who, if they had agreed unanimously against them, would have ended the state remedy. That is the first positive ruling they have ever had.”
Seattle-based attorney and legal analyst Anne Bremner has followed the case since the begining. In an email, here’s what she had to say about the pair’s petition for review.
“I guess any chance to get a second bite at the apple is a positive sign for them. But the opinions thus far where the courts have ruled against them have been well-reasoned and apparently fair.”
No matter what the justices decide, this likely isn’t the final chapter for the Burns-Rafay saga which has been played out on both sides of the border for nearly two decades.
Even if the petition for review is denied, the pair still has other legal avenues to appeal their conviction.