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. He would be eligible for parole aged 101. For Kris, “life” is a death sentence in all but name. On 4th April 2017, Kris was granted a new hearing where new evidence of his innocence can finally be presented before the courts. We continue to work on Kris’s case ahead of the new hearing with hope that we can finally prove his innocent and end this injustice.
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 defence whatsoever. 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.
“I couldn’t believe that in America you could get found guilty for something you didn’t do.”
Kris original trial was shambolic and a catalogue of every failing of the US justice system:
- The original judge was arrested on the third day of the trial for soliciting bribes.
- The second judge conspired secretly with the prosecutors to have them draw up the execution order before the judicial sentencing hearing had even begun.
- Kris’s lawyer did not submit a defence at all.
- Kris’s lawyer failed to call the six alibi witnesses who placed Kris 30 miles away from the scene.
- The prosecutors told the judge the State’s key witness had passed a lie detector test, when he in fact had failed. He has changed his story several times and committed perjury in six court cases. Kris, on the other hand, passed his polygraph.
- The lead detective told the jury Kris had lied about owning a gun and visiting the hotel where the murders took place; rather, documents show it was the police officer who lied.
- The State’s other key witness, who originally supported Kris’s alibi, changed his testimony only after the prosecutors helped him get off a possible life sentence in Jamaica.
As terrible as these judicial failings are, the most shocking fact is that the real culprits were known to the police all along. The victims, far from being the clean-cut businessmen they were portrayed as in court, were actually deep in the Miami drug smuggling trade and had been laundering money for Pablo Escobar.
Our latest investigation has uncovered further evidence of Kris’s innocence, including:
- Five former Cartel members, including one of Pablo Escobar’s chief lieutenants, have given statements that they and not Kris were responsible for the murders. The last court ruling in Kris’s case said that the former Cartel members presented “compelling” accounts that “independently corroborate one another’s […] All five individuals’ stories reflect that the Moo Youngs were killed by the Cartel.”
- The only other resident on the twelfth floor of the hotel was in Room 1214, across the hall from where the murders took place. He was from Colombia, and there was a blood smear on his door. The lead detective simply said he was “legit” – even though (unknown to the defence) he had just been indicted for membership in the Cartel.
- A government informant told his handlers at the time of the murders that the victims had been involved in the narcotics trade and the murders were a Cartel hit.
- A retired DEA special 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.
- 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.
Kris is 78 years old and in poor health and he will die in prison without our help. He has had thirty years of his life stolen from him, separated from his loving wife Marita. We’re fighting to reunite them.
The case will now move back to Miami for a federal hearing later this year before a single judge, who will consider the new evidence. We hope this will mean that Kris will finally be released and free to spend the rest of his days with Marita.