I have just finished talking to Marita Maharaj. I worry that she is finally losing hope. It has now been 33 years since her husband, Kris, was falsely convicted of murder and locked away in Florida’s prison system. Marita’s faith that truth will prevail has never wavered, but as the state denies Kris justice by delaying his day in court – frankly, in the expectation that he will die before a judge can set him free – it becomes harder and harder to imagine a happy ending to this sad story.
That Kris is innocent is not in doubt. Piece by piece, we have proved not only that he did not commit the crime – a double murder in the Dupont Plaza Hotel in downtown Miami – but also shown who did: the two victims made the fatal mistake of ripping off Pablo Escobar, and he sent assassins from Medellin, in Colombia, to take revenge. We know this because several cartel members have told us so, on the record, in sworn statements.
A magistrate judge in Florida had given Kris and Marita hope in time for the holidays. She found by “clear and convincing evidence” that “no reasonable juror” could convict Kris: in other words, that he is innocent. Bizarrely, this is not enough under U.S. law, which harbours the fiction that a “fair” trial may reach the “wrong” result. Thus, she set a hearing for January 28th, 2020 – two days after Kris’ 81st birthday – to evaluate whether the trial had been fair. I told Kris and Maria when I saw them that I was confident we would prevail. At last, he could come home to England.
Predictably, the prosecutors objected her order, heedless of the suffering this would cause Kris and Marita. Justice delayed is always justice denied, but especially so when the prisoner is an old man, confined to a wheelchair and in decline.
Christmas has always been a difficult time for Marita: 32 years in a row, she set an extra place at her dining room table for her husband, holding onto the fantasy that he might walk in at any moment, full of the bonhomie that was his trademark when they lived in London. Each year she drove to see him – first when he was on death row, and more recently in the South Florida Reception Centre, the prison with its euphemistic name that has been his home since we got the death sentence tossed out in 2002.
This year, for the first time, Marita did not even bother with the Christmas decorations that she squirrels in a crammed cupboard for the rest of the year in her lonely bungalow. This year, she was not able to visit Kris. They both ‘celebrated’ their 80th birthday in 2019, and neither are in the best of health. Kris was too sick for a visitor, while Marita’s car had anyway broken down.
On December 29, Kris and Marita had their permitted five-minute call. He said he was feeling better, and Marita had arranged a ride with a friend for January 1, an annual holiday visit day. The next day, in a typical seasonal surprise for the two of them, the federal judge cancelled the January hearing altogether, to take more time over the appeal.
I had half-expected it – why do judges always save their crushing disappointments for the twelve days of Christmas? – and I had to pass it along to Kris via Marita. The poor woman was crushed.
The continued obsession with keeping Kris in prison is a mystery to me. I have represented him for 26 years now, and many of my own grey hairs are attributable to the injustice he has suffered. One can barely begin to imagine the impact on Kris himself and his ever-loyal wife.
At Reprieve we will, of course, soldier on. Marita wished me a happy new year. If there are two people on the planet who deserve such a thing, it would be Kris and Marita Maharaj.