No new trial for British man convicted of 1986 Miami murders

Krishna Maharaj, convicted of a double murder in Miami in 1986, in court during a hearing in 2014.
Krishna Maharaj, convicted of a double murder in Miami in 1986, in court during a hearing in 2014. The Miami Herald

A Miami appeals court on Wednesday upheld the murder conviction of a former millionaire businessman whose claim of innocence has been championed for years by British politicians and media despite a wealth of evidence against him.

The Third District Court of Appeal upheld a lower-court judge’s decision denying Krishna Maharaj, 77, a new trial for a bloody double murder inside a downtown Miami hotel in 1986.

Jurors in 1987 heard that Maharaj — locked in a bitter business dispute with his ex-business partner, Derrick Moo Young — lured the man and his son, Duane, to the Dupont Plaza Hotel before gunning them down. He was convicted, and eventually given a life sentence.

The appeals court issued its ruling with no written opinion, meaning Maharaj will have a slim chance to appeal to the Florida Supreme Court.

In the past, higher courts have consistently upheld his conviction. But in 2014, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge William Thomas in 2014 afforded him a hearing to present claims that the Colombian cartel members, with help from crooked Miami cops, were really behind the murders.

In that hearing, two former cartel associates from Miami’s infamous “Cocaine Cowboys” era testified that now-dead kingpin Pablo Escobar might have ordered the murders, although neither man could positively identify the Moo Youngs as the supposed targets of his anger.

Judge Thomas, in a 13-page order, ruled that much of their testimony was rife with hearsay that could legally never be admitted before a jury.

An ex-Miami cop, now in prison for kidnapping, also testified that a former colleague, now dead, suggested to him that Maharaj might have been framed. The judge found him “totally unreliable.”

“The claim that corrupt police officers framed Mr. Maharaj is preposterous,” Thomas wrote.

The judge noted that at trial, Maharaj’s 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 was the testimony of 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.

Maharaj’s case has been featured frequently in British documentaries and, most recently, on CNN.