Nearly three decades after Derrick Moo Young and his son were gunned down in a Miami hotel, relatives flew from across the country to sit through yet another bid for freedom sought by the convicted killer.
Then, tragedy struck again.
Just as testimony got under way this week, the family rushed from the courtroom to the bedside of Jeannette Moo Young, Derrick’s widow and a retired Broward school teacher. Doctors reported that the 82-year-old, recently diagnosed with cancer, was in grave condition.
She died peacefully, surrounded by family, her daughter said Thursday.
For her family, the timing only added to the enduring pain of a murder case that the convicted killer, abetted by the British press, has continually revived. At the very same time they were paying last respects, defense lawyers for Krishna Maharaj were again trying to portray Moo Young’s husband as a secret money launderer who was really killed by the Colombian cartel.
“She was just tired of all the negative publicity,” her daughter, Shaula-Ann Nagel, 57, said on Thursday in court. “She didn’t want to live through any more court hearings.”
Though in mourning, several family members nevertheless returned for the final day of hearings for Maharaj, a former business partner of Moo Young who is serving a life sentence for the December 1986 murders.
Maharaj’s conviction has been consistently upheld by higher courts, but the former British millionaire businessman is asking Judge William Thomas to grant a new trial.
He was a former friend and neighbor of Moo Young, who was shot to death alongside the couple’s son, 23-year-old Duane, inside the Dupont Plaza hotel.
Derrick Moo Young, a one-time farmer, hailed from a prominent Catholic family in Jamaica. He came to Miami with his wife in the mid-1970s. Moo Young ran an import-export business, but he was no money launderer for the cartel, his daughter said.
“There is no way,” said Nagel, who now lives in Atlanta. “The lifestyle we lived was so simplistic.”
Maharaj’s defense teams insist that Miami police framed him for the murders in an elaborate plot on behalf of long-dead Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. His lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, penned a book about the case, which has been championed by the British press and politicians.
On Thursday, another of his lawyers, Ben Kuehne, claimed that financial documents from the business showed Moo Young was involved in money laundering.
“Circumstantial evidence only, but again, would it have caused a reasonable possibility of changing the outcome of the case? We say absolutely,” Kuehne said.
Two former drug cartel associates — both ex-government informants — also testified that Escobar and one cartel member told them “los chinos,” or the Chinese men, were killed for stealing. Neither man knew the Moo Youngs or identified them positively as the targets.
A cartel member was staying in a room across from where the murders took place, raising suspicions never explored by investigators, Kuehne said.
Miami-Dade prosecutors scoff at the notion.
Maharaj and Moo Young had been in a bitter business dispute. At the 1987 trial, jurors heard that Maharaj rented the hotel room, and numerous of his fingerprints were found inside the room. A key eyewitness also testified to seeing him pull the trigger, and others told jurors that Maharaj, at a Denny’s restaurant after the homicide, tried to concoct an alibi.
Prosecutor Penny Brill, head of the state attorney’s legal bureau, told the judge that the testimony, presented over three days of hearings, was hearsay from people who have long since died.
“Everyone who can refute it is dead,” Brill said, adding: “All we have heard here for the last two days is speculation.”
The judge is expected to rule in the coming weeks.