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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 October, 2004, 13:18 GMT 14:18 UK
Q&A: Key facts about the Maharaj case
Krishna Maharaj speaking to Newsnight's Tim Samuels
Krishna Maharaj has spent 18 years in a Florida jail
As new information suggesting a British businessman convicted of a double murder in Florida suffered a miscarriage of justice, Newsnight's Tim Samuels answers some of the key questions surrounding the case.

What crime was Krishna Maharaj convicted of?

On 16th October 1986, the bodies of two men were found in Room 1215 of the DuPont Plaza Hotel in downtown Miami.

They were a Jamaican father and son - Derrick and Duane Moo Young - who had been business associates of Krishna Maharaj.

The prosecution alleged the elder victim had fraudulently taken money from Maharaj, who had gone to the hotel to demand repayment and, they claim, pulled a gun on Derrick Moo Young and, following an argument, shot him and his son.

Why was he found guilty?

Maharaj was convicted of murder a year later in 1987.

He was damned by the testimony of two witnesses: Neville Butler - who said he had been in the hotel room and saw Maharaj carry out the shootings; and the word of Tino Geddes, who said that Maharaj had been planning the murders.

A dozen sets of Maharaj's fingerprints were also found in the hotel room.

Why were his fingerprints in the murder room?

Krishna Maharaj has never denied being inside the room. He says he was there that morning for a meeting: he hung around for a while but the businessman never showed up.

His defence team say this was key to framing Maharaj - arranging for him to go to the room, so leaving his fingerprints at the scene and being spotted there.

Where does he say he was that day?

Krishna Maharaj says that from leaving the hotel in Miami after about 10am, he headed up to Fort Lauderdale - 30 miles from Miami.

There he went to a printing press for a newspaper he part-owned, to a nearby café, onto his office and then to lunch with friends - all in the Fort Lauderdale area.

Who supports his version of events?

The state claims the murders took place between 11am and noon in Miami. Krishna Maharaj claims he was 30 miles away at the time in Fort Lauderdale.

Six people have stated they saw him between 11am and noon in Fort Lauderdale, including: Arthur McKenzie, a man at the café by the printing press; Douglas Scott, a distributor for the newspaper based in the same office block; George Bell, a real estate agent also based in the office block; Dr Marianne Cook, then managing the offices; Ramkisson Gang, an old friend; and Ronald Kisch, the manager of a seafood restaurant.

Why weren't the alibi witnesses called to testify?

His lawyer at the original trial says that each of the alibis had changed their minds by the time of the trial and said that Krishna had asked them to cover for him.

His new defence team say this is nonsense - and that the witnesses were all available to be called. Indeed, they point to the fact that ten years later - in a 1997 hearing - two of the witnesses (Douglas Scott and Arthur McKenzie) appeared to say they had seen Krishna that morning.

Why was the judge arrested during his trial?

Three days into the Maharaj trial, the judge was led away in handcuffs - having been arrested on suspicion of taking bribes in another case, following an FBI sting operation. The judge was later disbarred.

There were wider concerns about judicial corruption in Miami Dade county at the time, leading to Operation Court Broom - to break a long-suspected ring of bent judges on the Circuit Court. Four judges were charged with extortion and bribery.

What is Krishna Maharaj's background?

Krishna Maharaj was born on 26 January 1939 in Trinidad when it was still subject to British rule - making Krishna a British citizen.

He moved to England in 1960, where he began earning a living by driving a van - and then started his own company importing bananas.

That business became immensely successful, making him a millionaire - he became the second biggest racehorse owner in Britain. In the mid 1980s Krishna and his wife began spending their winters away from the British weather in Florida.

Why couldn't he afford better legal help?

By the time of the murders in 1986, much of his wealth had been depleted by a property slump and a lengthy battle in the High Court to break the government's monopoly on importing bananas.

After the murder trial he was declared indigent - officially broke.

Why were the victims killed?

Krishna Maharaj's defence team claim that the victims were actually involved in a number of large-scale frauds that appeared to involve laundering the proceeds of drug dealing.

Indeed, perhaps they knew they were playing with fire, having taken out million-dollar life insurances weeks before their deaths.

What has the British government done to help?

Having been passive for much of Maharaj's time in jail, earlier this year the British government submitted a brief calling for a retrial - on the grounds that contrary to international law, they hadn't been informed that a citizen was facing capital charges and so were unable to assist.

Who now represents him?

For the last ten years, Krishna Maharaj has been represented by crusading British lawyer Clive Stafford Smith OBE - who has recently returned from more than 20 years in the US fighting death penalty cases.

London law firm Freshfields also provide pro bono assistance.

Why was he moved from Death Row?

In March 2002 a re-sentencing hearing commuted Krishna Maharaj's death sentence to life.

This was a re-sentencing hearing - it was not a retrial.

The jury were only deciding whether or not Maharaj should be sentenced to life in prison or face the lethal injection. The jury was not allowed to hear any mention that he might be innocent.

This resentencing hearing stemmed from an appeal in 1997 which ruled that there was judicial misconduct in his original trial in 1987 - namely that the judge asked the prosecution to draw up the death sentence before Krishna had been found guilty.

As such, the appeal judge in 1997 temporarily vacated the death sentence - but refused to allow him a new retrial at which could fight his actual conviction.

At the March 2002 hearing, the state sought to re-impose the death sentence on Krishna - but lost by a verdict of 11-1.

He was given a 50-year sentence instead - to be served in the same jail (Union Correctional Institution in Florida).

Why can't he win a re-trial?

A key reason appears to be a "procedural bar" within the judicial system which makes it very hard to admit evidence which was not submitted at the original trial.

Newsnight's investigation into Krishna Maharaj's conviction will be broadcast in two parts on Wednesday, 13 October and Thursday, 14 October, 2004.

Newsnight is broadcast on BBC Two at 10.30pm every weeknight in the UK.

You can also watch the show from this website, either live or on demand for 24 hours after originally broadcast, by clicking on the latest programme button.

Krishna Maharaj's death row diary
13 Oct 04 |  Newsnight


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