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Thursday, 28 March, 2002, 00:14 GMT
Millionaire Briton's 15 years on Death Row
Krishna Maharaj
Krishna Maharaj was found guilty of two murders
British citizen and former millionaire Krishna Maharaj's death sentence has been commuted to life imprisonment. His defence team will now hope to appeal further for a full retrial.

For 15 years British citizen Krishna Maharaj was on Death Row in the United States for a crime he says he did not commit.

To the authorities in Florida, where Maharaj is locked up, his guilt is not in doubt. Yet irregularities in his original trial recently to a resentencing hearing and his death penalty has now been overturned.

I've never been more certain that someone is innocent. It's a total scandal and miscarriage of justice

Lawyer Clive Stafford Smith
A Florida jury has instead imposed a sentence of life imprisonment on the former south London resident. But Maharaj's defence team will not rest there. They plan to appeal further for a full retrial, claiming their client is innocent of all charges.

Krishna Maharaj, who moved to Florida from the UK in the 1980s, was arrested and charged in 1986 with the double murder of Derrick Moo Young and his son Duane at a hotel in Miami, Florida.

The prosecution alleged the elder victim had fraudulently taken money from Maharaj's family in Trinidad and Maharaj had gone to the hotel to demand repayment.

An alibi

At the hotel Krishna pulled a gun on Derrick Moo Young and, following an argument, shot him. Maharaj then turned the gun on his victim's son.

Maharaj with dog
Maharaj was a successful businessman
The main prosecution witness was Neville Butler, who claims to have been in the hotel room with Maharaj at the time of the killings and who gave Maharaj's name to the police.

Maharaj claims he was 25 miles from the scene of the crime when it happened, at a business meeting with associates, which was followed by lunch. He has seven alibi witnesses to back up this story.

Yet none of these witnesses were called at the original trial - an oversight which is blamed on the inexperience of Maharaj's original defence lawyer.

Maharaj is now represented by the Louisiana-based British lawyer Clive Stafford Smith, who has been a relentless campaigner against the death penalty.

Bribery charges

Mr Stafford Smith believes several other factors also cast doubt on Maharaj's conviction.

Maharaj's re-sentencing
Maharaj's death sentence was suspended after the judge was revealed to have drafted the sentencing order before summing up to the jury
He says Derrick Moo Young was wrapped up in shady dealings - selling drugs or money laundering - and points to alleged irregularities at the initial trial.

The original judge was dismissed after three days, after being arrested on bribery charges in different case. Yet Maharaj's lawyer at the time did not demand a new trial.

Incidentally, Maharaj also alleges that the judge had tried to solicit a bribe from him before full court proceedings started in his case.

According to Mr Stafford Smith, the prosecution's chief witness, Neville Butler, failed part of his lie detector test. Meanwhile, Maharaj passed the polygraph test without a hitch.

Today, Krishna Maharaj's daily routine is centred on a 6ft x 9ft prison cell at the Union Correctional Institute in Florida. He is allowed out only for showers - three times a week - legal and family visits, and to see a doctor.

Lavish lifestyle

It is a long way from the lifestyle he had grown used to before his arrest.

Born in Trinidad in 1939, Maharaj moved to England in 1960, where he set up a business importing bananas. The enterprise made him a millionaire and he indulged his wealth in Rolls-Royces and racehorses.

In the mid-1980s, he and wife Marita began to escape the British winters by staying in Florida and it was during one of these stays that Maharaj was arrested for murder.

His case has won many supporters in the UK, including dozens of MPs and Lords.

Among the most outspoken is the former Tory cabinet minister Peter Bottomley who has visited Maharaj several times and called for "a fair trial with all the evidence revealed and considered".

The BBC's Fergal Parkinson
"The jury have unanimously rejected the original death sentence"

Click here to go to London
See also:

27 Mar 02 | England
Briton's death sentence commuted
29 Nov 01 | England
Petition to save death row Briton
17 Oct 01 | England
Play honours death row Briton
25 Jan 01 | Americas
Retrial hopes for death row Briton
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