Justice ‘Denied’ – twice
By Clive Stafford Smith
Reprieve’s Founder and Director, and Kris’s lawyer
In July the Florida court wrote just one word as they refused Kris Maharaj the chance to challenge his sentence, ‘denied’; this time they wrote ‘denied’ twice.
Given that four people closely linked to the Colombian drug cartels said they did the murders for which Kris has spent nearly 30 years in prison, this is another devastating blow for him and his astoundingly loyal wife Marita. He will be 78 years old in January and I am not sure whether he will survive much more of this.
On 1st September, the Florida Court of Appeals blocked our challenge to Kris’s sentence. He’s spent nearly three decades in prison for a double murder he did not commit. Sixteen of those years were on death row, until we had his death sentence quashed in 2002. But the state of Florida still wouldn’t let him go, and he’s been in prison ever since.
Under rules of US constitutional law, the issue of Kris’s innocence is not, technically, a reason for which he can be granted a new trial.
The court’s refusal to write more than the simple word “denied” on the judgment, means that Kris’s options in Florida are closed – he must now seek justice from the federal courts.
It was nearly two years ago that I was in court presenting the evidence we’d uncovered of his innocence. Over a week long hearing I presented four people closely linked to Pablo Escobar who confirmed that the Colombian drug cartels were responsible for the murders of Derrick and Duane Moo Young in the Dupont Plaza on October 16th, 1986.
Two of the witnesses were informants for the US government, Baruch Vega and a witness who went under the pseudonym John Brown, as he still fears cartel reprisals. Vega was a long time informant for the CIA and the DEA, and said that within days of the murders he told his handlers that the cartels had carried out the crime. Escobar told Brown directly that the Moo Youngs had been murdered because they had tried to steal from him.
Kris had his 77th birthday earlier this year, and Marita will pass the same milestone in November. They have both suffered increasing ill-health: Kris because he is in the sweltering Florida summer, in a prison ill served by a contract health company; Marita, because she is in America and has a hard time getting health care at all. She has supported him through all these years, visiting him in prison once a week from his time on death row in 1986, through to today. She is obviously convinced of his innocence: she was, after all, with him at the time of the crime.
This judgment is a huge setback in our fight for justice for Kris. This week we also learned that Linda Carty, a British grandmother on death row in Texas has also been denied a new hearing – despite compelling evidence of her innocence.
It’s a lot of bad new to get in one week – for Kris, for Linda, their families, and the thousands of us all around the world who want justice for them. But this is a timely reminder of why we’re fighting, who we’re fighting for – and of what we’re up against.