Krishna ‘Kris’ Maharaj was sentenced to death in 1987 for two murders he didn’t commit. In 2002, Reprieve’s work on his case led to a reduction in his sentence to life imprisonment. However, despite his innocence, he still remains imprisoned.
I couldn’t believe that in America you could get found guilty for something you didn’t do.
Kris, a British citizen born in Trinidad, was living in Florida when father and son Derrick and Duane Moo Young were gunned down in a Miami hotel in October 1986. Kris had six alibi witnesses, who each confirmed that he was 30 miles away at the time, yet none of them were asked to testify at his trial and his lawyer presented no defense whatsoever.
On the third day of the trial, the judge was led away in handcuffs for taking bribes in another case. The second judge conspired with the prosecution to draw up the execution order before the sentencing hearing had even begun. That’s why, in 2002, Clive Stafford Smith (who has represented Kris for more than 20 years) was able to have Kris’s death sentence quashed. But it was a bittersweet victory – Kris was resentenced to life imprisonment, and he isn’t eligible for parole until he is 101 years old.
After years of investigation, Clive discovered that the Moo Youngs were involved in laundering billions of dollars for Colombian drug baron Pablo Escobar, and that the murders were actually carried out by the cartels after Derrick and Duane lost or stole some of the money that they were laundering.
Clive also uncovered evidence that practically all of the prosecution’s witnesses at trial were involved in trafficking drugs, and that the Miami Police Department had struck a deal with the cartels to cover up their murders.
In November 2014, Clive and co-counsel Benedict Kuehne presented the following new evidence at a hearing before Judge William Thomas in Miami:
- A retired DEA agent pointed out the various ‘red flags’ in the police investigation at the time, and agreed that the murders were the work of Colombian drug cartels.
- Admissions from two former cartel members, including one of Pablo Escobar’s chief lieutenants, that they and not Kris were responsible for the murders. Both named a renowned hit man nicknamed Cuchilla (‘The Blade’) as the real assassin. Cuchilla himself was later fed through a wood chipping machine.
- Testimony from a former cartel pilot, testifying under a pseudonym for fear of reprisals, that Pablo Escobar himself had warned him in December 1986 not to steal from him or he would be killed like ‘Los Chinos’, who he’d had killed in a Miami hotel. When asked why he was coming forward with this information now, he replied simply: “you got the wrong guy”.
- Miami lawyer Brenton Ver Ploeg testified about documents he found when defending the Moo Youngs’ $1.5million life insurance policies – which he viewed as strongly indicating their involvement in narcotics and money laundering.
- Evidence from one of the State’s witnesses at trial, who testified about the drug involvement of two central figures in the case, including the alleged eye-witness, Neville Butler – who told him on the day of the murders that “they just started shooting and it was bullets all over the place and I think there was some remark about the money or two suitcases of money.” Butler’s shirt was torn and bloody and his watch was broken – though he had changed before speaking to police.
Evidence from former State and Federal informant Baruch Vega that Derrick Moo Young was being investigated at the time for his involvement in narcotics, but that Vega knew then that it was a cartel murder and told his handlers this at the time.
It is difficult to see how anyone can justify upholding Kris’s conviction. This is a sad day for justice, but I am confident that we will get this decision reversed on appeal.
-Clive Stafford Smith, Kris’s lawyer and founder of Reprieve
All of this comes on top of Kris’s six alibi witnesses, the fact that he passed a polygraph (unlike Neville Butler), and the fact that the State’s other key witness (who said that Kris had asked him to falsify an alibi) had only recanted his story after the Florida prosecutors had helped him get off a possible life sentence in Jamaica.
In support of Kris’s conviction, the State’s Attorney’s Office presented just two witnesses, none of whom could give any reason why so many people would lie about Kris’s innocence.
On 9th January 2015, Judge Thomas refused to grant Kris a new trial. He said that although the testimony of government informant Baruch Vega was “compelling”, it was “hearsay”. Because Florida law, in common with the law of many states, does not recognize a claim of factual innocence, he did not even mention Kris’s claim of innocence in his ten page order.
I have waited a long, long time for justice, and I am just shell-shocked.
In July 2015 legal documents were filed, appealing the decision of Judge Thomas, and requesting a fresh hearing for Kris. The appeal court sent down its decision ‘Affirmed’ in July 2016.
In January 2017, Kris was hospitalized for several weeks after becoming seriously ill with a rare skin condition. Kris is already confined to a wheelchair, as a result of contracting a similar illness in 2011.
In February 2017, Kris filed his final appeal again his wrongful conviction. There are now six cartel associates claiming that they committed the murder for which Kris has been convicted. For more information, read the press release here.
The address is:
Location B 2146 S
South Florida Reception Center
13910 NW 41st Street
Doral, Florida 33178