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Thursday, May 13, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Murder defendant Burns accused of perjuring self

By Sara Jean Green
Seattle Times Eastside bureau

ANTHONY BOLANTE / AP
Atif Rafay, right, and Glen Sebastian Burns, center rear, are unhandcuffed as they arrive for their murder trial Wednesday, May 12, 2004, in King County Court in Seattle. The two are each charged with three counts of aggravated first-degree murder in the July 12, 1994, deaths of Tariq and Sultana Rafay, both 56, and their 20-year-old autistic daughter, Basma, who were found bludgeoned with a baseball bat in their Bellevue, Wash. home. (AP Photo/Anthony P. Bolante, Pool)WXS113
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Out of the jury's presence, prosecutors yesterday accused triple-murder defendant Sebastian Burns of perjuring himself on the witness stand and asked for more time to prepare their cross-examination and call rebuttal witnesses to impeach Burns' testimony.

King County Superior Court Judge Charles Mertel initially denied the state's request, but later decided to dismiss the jury early so he could hear arguments from both sides to determine what the state will be allowed to ask Burns. After lengthy pretrial hearings last year, Mertel issued a ruling limiting the evidence the jury would be allowed to consider in the triple, aggravated first-degree murder case against Burns and his co-defendant, Atif Rafay.

On Tuesday, the state rested its case after nearly six months of testimony. Burns' attorneys then called their client to the stand.

Burns testified he and Rafay didn't bludgeon Rafay's parents and sister to death with a baseball bat in the Rafay family's Bellevue home on July 12, 1994. He also said under oath that he and Rafay later confessed to killing the family to two undercover Canadian police officers they thought were high-rolling criminals because Burns feared the faux thugs would kill him if he didn't.

Burns-Rafay details


The crime: Tariq Rafay, 56, and his wife, Sultana, 56, were bludgeoned to death in their Bellevue home on July 12, 1994. Their daughter, Basma, 20, died of her injuries the next day.

The defendants: Atif Rafay, 28, son of Tariq and Sultana, and Sebastian Burns, 28. The two were charged in 1995 with three counts of aggravated first-degree murder, which under state law is punishable only by death or by life in prison without possibility of release.

The latest: Testimony was halted yesterday so King County Superior Court Judge Charles Mertel could hear arguments from both sides about the scope of the state's cross-examination of Burns.

What's next: The state is expected to cross-examine Burns this morning.

"Mr. Burns, on virtually every material fact, committed perjury and we think we can prove that," said county deputy prosecutor Roger Davidheiser. He added that the state has begun lining up rebuttal witnesses who will "allow the state to fairly, accurately and succinctly impeach the testimony Mr. Burns gave."

Prosecutors are expected to cross-examine Burns this morning and have indicated they will call at least two rebuttal witnesses. Attorneys for Rafay have said they won't decide if Rafay will testify until after Burns' cross-examination.

Before Mertel dismissed the jury for the day, jurors heard testimony from Detective Bob Thompson, who led the Bellevue Police Department's homicide investigation of the deaths of Tariq, Sultana and Basma Rafay. Thompson previously testified for the prosecution.

Burns' attorney Jeffrey Robinson grilled Thompson about tips Bellevue police received from other law-enforcement agencies suggesting there was a religious motive for the homicides. Part of the defense's case is that Thompson and other police officials were so convinced of Burns and Rafay's guilt within a day or two of the killings that they failed to investigate other suspects, including Muslims who opposed Tariq Rafay's religious beliefs. Tariq Rafay, a structural engineer, had become a controversial figure after writing a paper and developing a computer program that indicated North American mosques were incorrectly positioned toward Mecca, the jury has heard.

Thompson testified the tips weren't credible, but he later acknowledged he didn't speak about a possible religious motive for the killings to anyone but the Rafays' extended family — relatives who didn't live in the area. "You didn't talk to any Muslims in the Seattle-Bellevue area with religious beliefs in opposition to Dr. Tariq Rafay's, did you?" Robinson asked. "No," Thompson said. Later, Robinson asked, "You didn't talk to anybody who disagreed with the paper Dr. Rafay was writing about the right way to pray, did you?" Again, Thompson said, "No."

In another development, Robinson told the judge that Burns and Rafay's cells inside the King County Jail were searched soon after Burns testified on Tuesday.

"These were not jail officials, your honor," Robinson said, adding that those who conducted the search were in plainclothes. It wasn't clear yesterday what, if anything, was taken.

The judge was expected to question a jail official this morning about the reason for the search.

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

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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