Crime

Trial begins for man accused of execution-style murder of teen in North Miami

Accused killer Johnathan Simon in Miami-Dade circuit court. He is accused of gunning down 15-year-old Jason Maharaj in September 2009 outside a North Miami Burger King.
Accused killer Johnathan Simon in Miami-Dade circuit court. He is accused of gunning down 15-year-old Jason Maharaj in September 2009 outside a North Miami Burger King. David Ovalle

There is no doubt that grainy video surveillance behind a North Miami Burger King captured the vicious execution-style murder of 15-year-old Jason Maharaj in September 2009.

Prosecutors believe that Johnathan Simon is to blame. Eyewitnesses identified Simon, who was found blocks away minutes later wearing pants and a blue backpack just like the killer wore on the video. The gun, found wrapped in a white T-shirt worn by the killer, was found nearby, thrown in someone’s yard.

“It was senseless. It was violent. And it was cruel,” Miami-Dade Assistant State Attorney Jonathan Borst told jurors during opening statements in Simon’s trial for murder.

But Simon’s defense lawyer insists that eyewitnesses who identified a black man with a backpack are wrong — and argues there is no conclusive DNA or gun-shot residue evidence trying Simon to the scene.

“They just needed a young black male with a blue backpack and they found one,” attorney Scott Miller told jurors.

Simon, 27, is charged with first-degree murder, attempted murder and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. He faces up to life in prison.

Exactly what prompted the shooting remains unclear.

Maharaj was a North Miami High student, born in Trinidad and Tobago of Indian heritage. He wanted to one day be a fireman or join the military, according to his uncle, Bobby Maharaj. “He was polite,” he said. “He didn’t like altercations. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Jason was hanging out with a group of friends about 7 p.m. along the 13500 block of West Dixie Highway. Some sort of argument erupted with the killer and as the friends left, they were followed.

The video shows the kids running through the parking lot of the Burger King. But Jason tripped and fell down. Simon shot him, then stood over him and pumped several more rounds into him as he lay on the pavement, Borst said.

“He was killed by a shooter he had never even met, a stranger,” Borst told jurors. “He was stalked, he was chased down and he was gunned down.”

But Walker said grainy surveillance does not identify the killer. “What you’re not going to see is Johnathan,” Walker said. “It simply is not him.”

The trial continues Thursday before Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Dennis Murphy.

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