A judge will allow a former British businessman convicted of a savage 1986 Miami double murder to present claims that the Colombian cartel was really to blame for the slayings.
Krishna Maharaj, whose claims of innocence have long been championed by the British press and politicians, was convicted at trial in 1987 in the killings of business associate Derrick Moo Young and Moo Young’s son Duane in a suite at Miami’s Dupont Plaza Hotel.
Maharaj’s lawyers say that they have interviewed members of the Colombian cartel once headed by notorious kingpin Pablo Escobar who say Maharaj had nothing to do with the murders.
On Thursday, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge William Thomas declined to opine on the “merits of the evidence,” but agreed to allow Maharaj to present witnesses during an evidentiary hearing, which is likely months away.
“It’s fantastic news for a man who has spent 27 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit,” said his attorney, Clive Stafford Smith, who acknowledged he faces “enormous hurdles” in getting witnesses in Colombia to come to Miami for the hearing.
For Thomas to overturn the guilty verdicts, Maharaj’s team must prove the likelihood of an acquittal — and that any evidence they present would even be legally admissible at a new trial.
But Miami-Dade prosecutors say the evidence against Maharaj is overwhelming. His conviction has consistently been upheld by appellate courts, including the Florida Supreme Court.
At his trial, jurors heard that Maharaj, now 75, killed the men because of a long-running business dispute.
Fingerprints in the hotel room tied Maharaj to the scene, as did an eyewitness who testified to seeing him pull the trigger. Witnesses also told jurors that Maharaj, at a Denny’s dinner after the homicide, tried to concoct an alibi.
Smith, who authored a book about the case, and Miami lawyer Ben Kuehne insist Escobar ordered Moo Young’s slaying because the man had been stealing money from him during a money-laundering operation. They also claim Miami police worked with the cartel and Maharaj’s business associates to help frame the businessman.
But Penny Brill, head of the State Attorney’s office legal bureau, says the allegations are nothing more than “fantastical” speculation and legal hearsay. In court documents, Brill and prosecutor Sally Weintraub point out that Colombian drug kingpins such as Escobar — who was killed by police in his country in 1993 — routinely dispatched “brazen” killers “without fear of being caught.”
“Many of these homicides were in retaliation and meant to send a message to others,” they wrote. “If an innocent person is framed, then the message is not sent.”
Maharaj was originally sentenced to death, but the penalty was overturned in 2002 and he is now serving a life sentence.
At Maharaj’s unsuccessful clemency hearing in 2007, Derrick Moo Young’s daughter told the Miami Herald: “It's all been hashed out before. It's a waste of tax dollars.”