The Confession Tapes: Atif Rafay & Sebastian Burns (Episodes 1 & 2: True East)

There’s a new documentary series now on Netflix called The Confession Tapes.

It appears to be mainly about false confessions and interrogation tactics, something I find to be very interesting and important.

Similar types of investigation have been started by and helpful to groups like The Innocence Project which help inmates who have been wrongfully convicted of crimes. But the significance of this kind of inquiry and learning goes beyond that: even criminals who committed their crimes deserve to have a proper trial. We want investigations to be done in the best manner possible; we want to discover the truth.

In recent years, some law enforcement tactics have been shown to work against finding the truth. Breakthroughs in DNA have pushed curious minds to inquire into how these erroneous convictions came about, even where there was an alleged confession.

I’ve watched the first two episodes of this new show. They are about Atif Rafay and friend Sebastian Burns who found Atif’s family murdered and who were subsequently convicted of the murders. Of course, it’s important to take all documentaries with a grain of salt. It’s easy to edit interviews, and many documentaries come with a bias or goal. Even so, with how it is presented, some of the interesting points came up:

Just because young Atif missed the first funeral does not make him guilty.

Police thought it was ridiculous Atif Rafay would have missed the first funeral following the murders. Others with him at the time explained that no one told Atif when the funeral was and that he was incredibly upset when he found out that he had missed it. An investigator essentially explained that a common Islamic tradition is burial within three days and therefore concluded Atif would have known that. But (lucky) young people don’t have to go to many funerals, let alone plan them; it’s completely reasonable for him to not have known that. And even if he did, it’s not an indicator of guilt.

Having an alibi is not proof of crafting an alibi to avoid guilt.

One investigator interviewed for the series explained all the places Atif and Sebastian had been that night: to a restaurant, to the movies, to a diner, to a club, AND that these places had workers who remembered the boys being there. Instead of seeing this as an alibi, it was seen as proof of Atif and Sebastian creating an alibi to cover up for the murders. Where the boys got a salad and wine it was seen as a way to be remembered for their Canadian IDs, where they left a generous tip it was another memorable moment instead of kindness, where they went to a club 20 minutes before it closed it was because they knew they would be turned away and thus remembered. But investigators should be uncovering facts first and later piecing them together, not looking for guilt in each fact they find.

Just because the actions don’t fit within your opinion or worldview, doesn’t mean they can’t fit within the opinions or worldviews of others.

When there was evidence presented that there may have been a sort of terrorist or hate attack against the family based on their religious beliefs, the investigator says it’s “inconceivable” that someone would get murdered over that. But in law enforcement, they see murders over nothing; they see murders over a missing $5 bill. They want to believe that a young man is intimately familiar with burial practices, but not that someone could be so set in their faith they see variations on their faith as an abomination? When we’ve had years of wars based on those very things?

Who you know is not an indicator of guilt.

An investigator asks “if you were a suspect in a murder case [would you even associate with criminals.” While, yeah, the people you spend time with certainly have the opportunity to shape you, they don’t fully make you. Knowing criminals, heck even committing one crime does not mean you committed another. Guilt by association is a dangerous road to go down.

Just wait til you get to the interview tactics… and the bombshells that happen during trial.

Are Atif and Sebastian innocent? I don’t know. The show certainly presents compelling evidence pointing in that direction which I’m not posting here; you watch it and come to your own conclusions. The show so far has been fascinating and worthwhile. But could this tragedy have been investigated better? I believe so.

This case was pretty interesting, so I hope to have time to look into it some more.

Let me know what you think of the show!


Cancer is a plan ruiner

In May of last year, I graduated from Case. I studied all summer and took the New York state bar exam. I went back to work, and after the excruuutiating waiting period, I found out that I passed the bar! And I did pretty damn well too 🙂

Starting in January I took off of work again and began studying for the New York Bar. I was sick. I’d been sick since late November, with some sort of something always coming and going. After a few back and forths with doctors, my urgent care doctor gave me an x-ray. He thought it was pneumonia. I was really struggling in my bar exam course. I was working so hard to keep up, some days doing as many as three days worth of studying in a day. I had just finished the second round of antibiotics and I was still sick. I debated going back to the doctors – maybe I should wait til after the bar. But a nagging voice in my head told me I didn’t want to be coughing through the bar exam (and my fellow examinees probably wouldn’t appreciate it much either). So I went back… and that’s when I found out.

It was six days before I was scheduled to take the exam. A few days before I was supposed to meet my friend in Columbus and check into our hotel. My urgent care doctor said I needed to go to the emergency room immediately. We thought for iv antibiotics. We were wrong.

At the emergency room I got a CAT scan. I’ll save the dramatics, but the doctor told me they found a mass in my chest. And it was pretty big. I’m a small-ish person, and the mass was taking up a lot of space in my lungs. They kept me in the hospital for a few days. They scheduled a surgery the day before the bar exam. I was assigned a team of doctors. The head doctor had told me I wasn’t going to make it to the bar. I had even brought my study book with me. I brought it to the urgent care waiting room and I kept it in my hospital bedroom. It was a pretty big hit.

So here I am now. I just completed my first round of chemo. I’ve got five more to go. I’m hoping the bar association will let me take the exam in July. I’m hoping I’ll have the energy to study for that exam. My plans are on hold. I have cancer.

Law School Graduation

I can’t believe it’s finally here. We are in the midst of 3L week, a little celebration for all of our hard work.

For me this Graduation is just so different from any other.

This Graduation marks a lot of work, through an incredibly tough time in my life.

I feel proud to have done what I have done and lucky to have had these opportunities.

Happy New Year

Very excited to be starting my last semester of law school. 🙂

What did I do in 2015?

  • I worked on both the prosecution and the defense side of criminal law.
  • I bonded with my little in Big Brothers Big Sisters.
  • I got certified as a legal intern for limited practice.
  • I competed at two Mock Trial competitions, even getting to be best litigator in my trials.
  • I visited Detroit, Michigan for the first time.
  • I celebrated Galentine’s day with a ton of admirable ladies.
  • I made a new best friend and watched her go home to China.
  • I ate more sushi than might be good for one person, haha.
  • I lived a day as another life, eating an eleven course meal at the fanciest restaurant I’ve ever been to.
  • I watched some amazing friends turn into new attorneys.
  • I completed a dare and went on a few hilariously bad dates and now have a whole new arsenal of funny stories, but also met a ton of new and interesting people.
  • I went to the Cleveland Indians Home Opener.
  • I had my first (and second!) experience at a place made of trampolines!
  • I cried for the first time at a wedding and watched one of my best friends from high school start a new part of life.
  • I watched my parents finalize their divorce. 😦
  • I appointed myself social chair and did a damn good job.
  • I became the Ghost Blitz Champion of the greater Cleveland area.
  • I made it to almost every Wade Oval Wednesday, sticking to my goal of having more free fun.
  • I visited Los Angeles, California for the first time ever (and I finally got to go to Disneyland!).
  • I tried a ton of new foods, but I think my favorite was Poke, which is a Hawaiian fish dish.
  • I was part of a ton of funny and serendipitous and small world moments.
  • I started trying yoga and weight lifting.
  • I got to visit Ohio Amish Country.
  • One of my best friends came all the way from England to see me in Cleveland. 🙂
  • I rented my first karaoke room.
  • I tried my hand at cross stitch.
  • I and my partners helped clients to the best of our ability.
  • I went to the first home game for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
  • I had three delicious birthday dinners.
  • I cooked a ton of food, and learned a bunch of new recipes.
  • I visited the Christmas Story House.
  • I made a bunch of new friends.

So up next we’ve got one last mock trial, a brand new internship, my last semester of law school, studying for, and taking the bar, and who knows?





Who knew 2L year was so busy? Oh right everyone

I’m working two days a week. Mock trial two days a week. Moot Court/ Appellate Practice once a week. Big Buddies every other week. Habeas Corpus lab twice a week.

I met my new little. 🙂

She is just great!

And now it’s fall – a wonderful season ! I can’t wait 🙂

Start of 2L year!

Well, to start off, I had an amazing summer. 

I worked at the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s office. In some ways I feel I learned more this summer than I did my whole first year. Doing the actual work was a wonderful experience. I loved it so much, I asked to stay on in the fall and they let me! 

I also worked a lot on my Cleveland Bucket List. 🙂 I’ve gotten a few things knocked off, but still a long way to go if I want to finish everything by the time I graduate!

Last week I spent my time going back and forth between jobs. I am a JD mentor and an international LLM mentor. I met like 200 students last week haha but it was a lot of fun. It’s nice to see them all adjusting to school.

And I’m re-adjusting too. Of course my dog, Lily, is not happy that studying is back in our lives either. :3

This year I am working Mondays and Fridays, taking The Wire and the War on Drugs, Criminal Procedure I, Appellate Practice, and Criminal Law and Psychiatry, as well as doing Mock Trial – I had my first Attorney General meeting this week! I’ll also be working hard with organizations like Cultivating Connections, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and Lambda. There is so much to do! But it’s going to be great. 

Orphan’s Thanksgiving 2013

Being at Law School can be tough. Unlike most of the other students I couldn’t afford to get home for Thanksgiving, so I got some good people who were sticking around for whatever reason to come over 🙂

Kathleen and Maral at Thanksgiving

I was worried about a full turkey fitting in my oven (especially with other food) so I just decided to try cornish hens.


I had NO idea what I was doing but I oiled those babies up with some yummy garlic and sea salt and thyme and when they came out, I cannot lie – they were AMAZING and juicy with crispy skins and ooh I love it when cooking adventures go well!


Kathleen came over and helped make some of the dishes and we watched a little bit of the game.


Then Yorgos and Maral came and brought some more delicious food.


We ate. And then we ate. And then we took a break. And then we ate some more. Dinner was like an 8 hour event, haha.


All in all we had a hen to ourselves, mashed potatoes, baked sweet potato casserole, green beans and mushrooms, squash, stuffing, biscuits, brown gravy, cake, blackberry pie, and pumpkin pie!


It was so good though and it makes me hungry just thinking about it!