Two West Vancouver men convicted for life nearly a decade ago for killing one of their families had their appeal attempt rejected by the Washington State Supreme Court Thursday.
Sebastian Burns and Atif Rafay, convicted in 2004 for crossing the border into Bellevue, Wash., to kill Rafay's parents and disabled sister, had all nine judges rule against a review of their case.
Last June a lower court also rejected their appeal that argued their convictions for the July 1994 slayings should be thrown out because much of the evidence was from a so-called "Mr. Big" sting conducted by the RCMP.
[Portions of that sting were conducted in Victoria hotel rooms, where undercover officers pretending to be mobsters met with Rafay and Burns. The lure was a chance to make money through money-laundering.]
Lawyers for Burns and Rafay argued details from such stings are not admissible in U.S. courts and the men, who were 18 at the time of the killings, were coerced into admitting to the murders.
A panel of three judges ruled proper U.S. legal standards were applied in accepting the sting evidence, and the panel also says a lower court was right to decide Burns and Rafay confessed voluntarily.
Hours of audio and video recordings made in the men's house and during various scenarios provide a "uniquely rich context for assessing the effect of the undercover operations on the defendants."
The ruling noted that after the pair became the targets of the RCMP investigation, they were led to believe they were entering a lucrative criminal organization.
Undercover RCMP officers got Burns to confess to the killing through a ruse asking for the murder details in order to destroy evidence that could point to him.
Rafay and Burns claimed they falsely confessed to the murders for fear the officers posing as criminals would kill them if they said they did not commit the crimes.
But, the ruling said, "Burns's actions throughout (the undercover investigation) suggest deliberate attempts to impress (the officer), not fear of physical injury."
The men are each serving three consecutive life terms for the murders, but have been spared the death penalty because of an extradition arrangement that returned them to Washington state in 2001.
Rafay and Burns became friends while attending high school in West Vancouver and the jury at the men's six-month trial was told Rafay was motivated by money and planned the slayings while Burns carried them out.
The two men, who had been visiting Rafay's family in Bellevue, told police they returned to the house at about 2 a.m. on July 14, 1994 and found Rafay's relatives dead after an apparent break-in.
They returned to Vancouver a few days later without attending the family's funeral.
The duo has also been in the news for issues with their legal defence.
Burns made headlines in 2002 when his lawyer Theresa Olson was removed from the case after prison guards claimed to have seen the two having sex during a visit.
The same year, The Seattle Post Intelligencer reported a rift between lawyers representing the two defendants that resulted in a complaint to the Washington Bar Association and a no-contact order.
The details of the complaint are in sealed files.
With a file from The Canadian Press
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