Krishna Maharaj, the one-time British millionaire businessman convicted of a bloody double murder in Miami in 1986, failed in his bid to convince a judge that the Colombian drug cartel was to blame.
A Miami-Dade judge on Friday denied a request for a new trial from Maharaj, whose claims of innocence have been championed for years by British politicians and media.
In court Friday, Maharaj’s wife and legal team sat quietly in disbelief. In a back row, Shaula-Ann Nagel, 57, the daughter of one murder victim, cried tears of relief, resting her head on the shoulder of the case’s original detective, John Buhrmaster.
“I definitely believe in our judicial system,” Nagel said afterward. “The judge saw the truth. He looked at everything that was presented and the truth speaks for itself.”
The decision Friday may have been the final shot at a reprieve for Maharaj. Now 75, Maharaj is in ailing health as he serves a life sentence for the 1986 murders of ex-business partner Derrick Moo Young and his son, Duane.
His defense attorneys plan to appeal. “The conclusion he reached is simply disappointing,” said Miami lawyer Ben Kuehne.
Jurors in 1987 heard that Maharaj — locked in a bitter business dispute with Derrick Moo Young — lured the men to a room inside the downtown Dupont Plaza Hotel before gunning them down.
Maharaj was originally sentenced to die by execution. The sentence was later overturned, and Maharaj was given life.
Higher courts including the Florida Supreme Court have consistently upheld his conviction, although Miami-Dade Circuit Judge William Thomas last year allowed him a hearing to explore the claims.
Leading the charge were Kuehne and British attorney Clive Stafford Smith, who wrote a book about his longtime representation of Maharaj, who once won fame in England for his ownership of champion race horses.
His case was featured frequently in British documentaries and, most recently, on CNN.
The judge’s decision came after a four-day hearing in November — during which Moo Young’s widow, Jeannette Moo Young, died of cancer while in the hospital.
During the hearing, lawyers tried to convince a judge that now-dead Colombian cartel leader Pablo Escobar ordered the murders in a complicated plan aided by crooked Miami police.
The hearing featured a host of colorful characters from 1980s South Florida, including a former Escobar pilot who testified that the kingpin had ordered “los chinos” — or the Chinese men — killed because they had been stealing drug money from him. Another former cartel associate, a jet-setting fashion photographer named Baruch Vega, testified similarly.
Both men had previously acted as U.S. government informants.
But Judge Thomas, in a 13-page order, pointed out that much of their testimony was rife with hearsay that could legally never be admitted before a jury. And neither men could positively identify the Moo Youngs as the supposed targets of Escobar’s wrath.
Ex-Miami police officer, Michael Flynn, also went to bat for Maharaj. His allegation: a now-dead Miami officer, Pete Romero, once suggested to him that Maharaj was framed.
But Flynn — who is in prison for kidnapping — was “totally unreliable,” the judge said. And the affidavits he signed, which were prepared by Maharaj’s legal team, were replete with factual errors, Thomas said.
“The claim that corrupt police officers framed Mr. Maharaj is preposterous,” the judge wrote.
Prosecutors insisted Maharaj's defense theory was far-fetched fantasy. In the 1980s, the cartel murdered enemies brazenly, never needing to frame their victims.
Thomas agreed, pointing out the “ample evidence” that Maharaj was guilty.
He pointed out that at Maharaj's trial, jurors heard that his fingerprints were found all over the hotel, including on a “Do Not Disturb” sign, two newspapers and an empty soda can.
Hotel employees also testified that Maharaj was the one who rented the suite. And perhaps most damning of all: the testimony of Neville Butler, an associate who saw and described the killings in detail.
Witnesses also told jurors that Maharaj, at a Denny's diner after the homicides, tried to get them to concoct an alibi.
“If anyone sits down and really reads the record, they know the judge came to the right decision and that Mr. Maharaj is guilty of these two horrific murders,” Miami-Dade prosecutor Penny Brill told reporters after the hearing.