Rafay attorney says police erred in zeroing in on pair

An attorney for Atif Rafay yesterday lambasted the Bellevue police detective who led the investigation into the bludgeoning deaths of Rafay's family in 1994, saying the detective had decided within days of the killings that Rafay and his high-school buddy Sebastian Burns were guilty — and that his decision shaped the course of the investigation despite evidence pointing to other killers.

On the second day of a triple-murder trial that's expected to last six months, Veronica Freitas made her opening statements to the jury, focusing on the day police were called to the Rafay family's Bellevue home and the two days after that. Prosecutors and attorneys for Burns, who with Rafay is accused of killing Rafay's parents and sister for inheritance money, made their opening statements Monday.

"There was no reason, there was no evidence at the Bellevue scene to indicate Atif and Sebastian were involved — in fact, the evidence indicates they weren't involved," Freitas said.

Freitas said Bellevue police Detective Bob Thompson had never headed a homicide investigation and was handed the city's first triple-homicide case not because of his experience but because it "was his turn" in the Police Department's detective rotation.

Thompson zeroed in on the two, then 18, because, Freitas said, he believed they didn't show enough emotion after the slaying; they didn't try to help Rafay's autistic sister, who was alive but mortally wounded; and they didn't attempt to contact Rafay's relatives in Canada. Thompson also was suspicious, Freitas said, because the pair were on a bus to Vancouver, B.C., on the day funeral services were held for the Rafay family.

Freitas told the jurors they would hear from officers who first arrived at the Rafay home shortly after 2 a.m. on July 13, 1994. Those officers, she said, would testify that both defendants were "visibly upset, on the verge of tears" and, at times, incoherent. Minutes earlier, Rafay and Burns had entered the house and found the bodies of Sultana Rafay, 56, and her husband, Tariq, 56. Their daughter Basma, 20, was fatally injured and died a few hours later.

"He was in shock from that moment," Freitas said of her client. Although Atif Rafay could hear his sister's moans, "he didn't want to go in (to her room), he didn't want to see anymore."

Rafay and Burns cooperated with police, giving them their clothes, shoes and fingerprints for analysis; Rafay was interviewed for hours, and during one conversation with detectives, he acknowledged that he didn't like his sister and was scared of her, Freitas said. "That doesn't mean he killed her," she said.

Police also chastised Rafay for failing to contact his extended family — but didn't tell him his relatives already were gathering in Seattle or offer to coordinate a meeting with them, Freitas said. Rafay told officers he didn't know how to reach the relatives but said their numbers were on speed dial on the family phone, Freitas said.

"Detective Thompson becomes really convinced they're (Rafay and Burns) involved when they leave Bellevue without telling anybody and they didn't attend Atif's family's funeral" on July 15 that year, Freitas said.

But the two young men, both Canadian citizens, contacted the Canadian Consulate before getting on a bus to Vancouver, she said. The consulate employee contacted a Bellevue police lieutenant who told her Rafay and Burns weren't suspects and were free to go, Freitas said. Freitas said the defendants missed the funeral because they had no idea one was planned. In fact, she said, police found out about the funeral only hours before it took place.

The state's case is based on evidence, including videotaped confessions, that was gathered during an elaborate undercover operation by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) after Rafay and Burns returned to British Columbia, Freitas said. Again, RCMP investigators took their cue from Thompson, who earlier had dismissed a tip from Canadian officials that suggested an assassin had been paid to kill the Rafays, Freitas said.

The Canadian detectives posed as international mobsters in an attempt to get Rafay and Burns to confess to the slayings.

"It took seven detectives from two countries eight months to extract these statements," Freitas said. "All the evidence the state has (against Rafay and Burns) is coerced, manipulated and not reliable."

That includes testimony from Jimmy Miyoshi, she said. Miyoshi was a friend of the defendants' who was arrested with them in July 1995 but later signed an immunity deal with prosecutors, Freitas said.

Miyoshi told police he, Rafay and Burns had lied to the Canadian detectives about being involved in the killings; "but a month after he (was) given immunity, he changed his story," Freitas said.

The first witnesses in the case are expected to testify Monday.

Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or sgreen@seattletimes.com