Netflix's "The Confession Tapes" left out critical facts supporting the guilt of Rafay and Burns.
Statement of the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office on the Netflix series, "The Confession Tapes": The Netflix series, “The Confession Tapes” devoted two episodes to the case of State of Washington v. Atif Rafay and Sebastian Burns. In that case, Burns and Rafay were charged with three counts of Aggravated Murder in the First Degree; the charges were based on the murders of Rafay's parents, Tariq and Sultana Rafay, and his sister, Basma Rafay, at their home in Bellevue, Wash. on July 12, 1994.
“The Confession Tapes” strongly suggests confessions to these crimes made by both Burns and Rafay are false—that is, suggesting they confessed to murders they did not commit.
The claim that Burns’ and Rafay’s confessions were false and coerced by the police is not new. This was their defense at trial, and it was an issue they raised on appeal.
The jury, which heard all of the evidence during a six-month trial, rejected this defense and convicted Rafay and Burns of three counts of Aggravated First-Degree Murder.
In June 2012, an independent panel of three experienced judges of the Washington Court of Appeals unanimously rejected Burns’ and Rafay’s claim that their confessions had been coerced. In a lengthy and detailed opinion, the appellate court affirmed their convictions. That published opinion is available here: WA Court of Appeals Published Opinion.
“The Confession Tapes” devoted only 90 minutes to the Burns and Rafay case. The episodes do not present a full or fair account of the crime, the defendants’ confessions, or the evidence presented at the six-month trial. Although the focus of the episodes is on the allegedly false confessions, most of the confessions (which were recorded on audio and videotape) are neither played nor described. Moreover, the show does not even mention that Burns testified at trial, and the jury was able to directly evaluate his claim that he did not commit the murders. Evidence that is contrary to the false confession claim is simply omitted from the program.
All of the relevant facts of this case cannot be adequately articulated in the confines of this space. Those interested in an unbiased and comprehensive summary of the facts of this case should read the Court of Appeals opinion.
The Court of Appeals opinion details the interactions between the undercover officers and Burns and Rafay. These interactions, virtually all of which were recorded, demonstrate that Burns, far from being intimidated by the officers, sought them out. Burns repeatedly expressed his willingness to engage in a variety of criminal acts, which he believed he was committing on behalf of a criminal organization, berated the “criminals” for their ineptitude, and complained about not being paid enough. Burns resisted attempts to discuss the Bellevue murders until he believed the undercover officers would assist him in destroying crime scene evidence held by the Bellevue police.
The Court of Appeals rejected Burns’ and Rafay’s claims that their confessions were coerced, and succinctly summarized their conclusions:
- “[T]the record in this case includes many hours of audio and video recordings made in the defendants' house and during the various scenarios. Those recordings provided a uniquely rich context for assessing the effect of the undercover operations on the defendants. The trial court was therefore able to view the defendants' demeanor and body language during the entire confessions, including 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 “[i]t was necessary to ... achieve what I wanted to achieve in this life.... I think of it as a sacrifice ... a sort of injustice in the world that basically, basically forced me or, and Sebastian, to ... have to do the thing.” This documentation severely undermined the defendants' claims that the undercover operations overcame their will to resist.”
An example of “The Confession Tapes” selective presentation of the facts is the show’s discussion of Burns’ and Rafay’s friend Jimmy Miyoshi, who testified at their trial. The defendants told Miyoshi well before the killings, about their plan to murder the Rafay family. “The Confession Tapes” suggests Miyoshi testified falsely against Burns and Rafay only because he was threatened with prosecution. “The Confession Tapes” leaves out important details about Miyoshi:
- Before receiving immunity for any testimony, Miyoshi admitted to the Canadian authorities that he knew about Burns’ and Rafay’s plan to commit the murders. He told them that Rafay first brought up the idea of killing his family during a car ride from Bellevue to Canada and that the motive was financial. He admitted that he, Burns and Rafay weighed the merits of such methods as gassing or staging a car accident but that Burns and Rafay settled on a baseball bat as a "quick and painless" way of accomplishing the murders. When asked if he thought Burns and Rafay were capable of killing the Rafays, Miyoshi responded, "I think they are capable of doing anything."
- Prior to any arrests, Burns urged Miyoshi to admit to an undercover officer that he knew about the plan to murder the Rafay family. Miyoshi was reluctant to do so. In a taped conversation where no undercover officer was present, Burns urged Miyoshi to admit to what he knew about the planned murder. Burns told Miyoshi the undercover officer “knows what went on” and “the reason why you didn't actually go and participate ah, was because you were working at the time and um, you know, it was, it was like we weren't even really sure, precisely what was going to happen until we were actually down there.”
“The Confession Tapes” recounts some but not all of the forensic evidence linking Burns and Rafay to the murders. Those facts can be found in the State’s appellate brief.
The King County Prosecuting Attorney’s office is aware of cases where defendants have falsely confessed to crimes they did not commit, and is alert to the possibility this could happen anywhere. However, a full and fair examination of the evidence in this case simply does not support the claim that Burns and Rafay falsely confessed.