Mercy plea by innocent Brit imprisoned for 20 years in U.S.
October 13, 2006
Human rights charity Reprieve – which acts for wrongfully imprisoned British businessman Krishna Maharaj – is to make a final appeal for clemency on his behalf, twenty years after his wrongful arrest. Fifteen of those years were spent on Death Row.
Krishna, 67 – whose case has won the support of church leaders, lawyers and nearly 300 Parliamentarians, as well as the previously unprecedented intervention of the British Government – will ask for mercy from Florida Governor, Jeb Bush, after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected, without explanation, Krishna’s final motion for a retrial last week.
If his clemency appeal is unsuccessful, Krishna will spend the rest of his life in prison for the 1986 murder of two Jamaican businessmen in Miami. This, despite serious concerns about the conviction, has led Reprieve Legal Director Clive Stafford Smith to say “I have done 300 capital cases and I have never had a case where I was so convinced of a person’s innocence.”
The litany of issues causing concern about the case include: • Krishna’s trial lawyer did not present any evidence in Krishna’s defence. Despite Krishna facing a capital murder trial, Krishna was strongly advised not to testify; no expert witnesses were instructed; and the jury heard from none of Krishna’s alibi witnesses, who would have put Krishna 25 miles away at the time of the murder.
• While Krishna passed a lie detector test [a fact the jury was not told], and has maintained his story throughout; Neville Butler, the prosecution’s star witness, changed his story after failing parts of a lie detector test.
• Neville Butler’s version of events has differed at each turn: his original deposition, his polygraph test, his testimony at trial and his subsequent interviews to the British press.
• The original judge was arrested part-way through the trial and Krishna maintains that the judge had previously tried to extort a bribe from him.
In 1997, a Florida court overturned Krishna’s death sentence. In 2002, Krishna was re-sentenced to life in prison. However, the Federal and Florida Courts have steadfastly refused to grant Krishna a full retrial. Krishna’s last hope is a plea for clemency to the President’s brother, who will step down as Governor of Florida in January next year.
Speaking from his cell after the Supreme Court’s decision, Krishna said:
“There are no words to describe the pain and suffering I have endured for the past twenty years in Florida’s prisons. And there is no doubt that my wife Marita’s pain and suffering have been even greater than mine. I’m indebted to all my fellow British citizens for their continued support. I dream every day of being back home in London as soon as possible.”
Krishna’s lawyer, Zachary Katznelson, the Senior Counsel of Reprieve, a charity which campaigns for justice for those facing the death penalty, added:
“The courts have turned a blind eye to the miscarriages of justice at Krishna’s trial. Krishna is now an elderly and sick man. He represents a threat to no one. It is time to bring him home.”
Notes to Editors
Krishna Maharaj is a British citizen, having been born in Trinidad on 26 January 1939, when it was still subject to British rule.
He moved to England in 1960. After a period of time as a van driver he set up a business importing Bananas, a venture that would make him a millionaire.
At the height of his wealth, in the late 1960s, Maharaj was the second biggest racehorse owner in the UK, mixing regularly with royalty and owning never less than four luxury cars at a time.
With the money he made from his business he funded his younger brother, Ramesh, through law school. Ramesh became the Attorney General of Trinidad – ironically a country which still practices the death penalty.
In the mid-eighties his business ran into trouble and he and his wife, moved to America where he set up a property investment company. He is now penniless and entitled to no legal aid.
Krishna’s wife has stayed in Florida throughout his 20-year imprisonment. Since he moved prisons this year she is able to visit him every weekend, before that for the past two decades visiting Kris entailed a 14-hour round trip to see him every other weekend.
Krishna is in poor health. He takes ten tablets each day for a variety of conditions – including diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. He damaged his spine after falling in the shower. His arm, which was broken in the fall, was on the verge of becoming gangrenous before it was finally treated.
Evidence has emerged since the original trial that the murder victims were involved in money laundering and had links to drug traffickers, suggesting a number of alternative suspects with strong motives, not considered at the time. A previous employee of a man named Adam Hosein has stated to the BBC that Mr Hosein went to the Dupont Plaza Hotel, where the murders occurred, on the day of the crime, and later bragged of getting rid of a problem. According to this witness, Mr Hosein had previously asked for cocaine on account from the murder victims. He recounted that Mr Hosein owed the victims money, so they had refused the request.
PO Box 52742
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Tel: 020 7353 4640
Fax: 020 7353 4641
Reprieve is a charitable company limited by guarantee; Registered Charity No. 1114900 Registered Company No. 5777831 (England) Registered Office 2-6 Cannon Street London EC4M 6YH; Patrons: Alan Bennett, Julie Christie, Martha Lane Fox, Gordon Roddick, Jon Snow, Marina Warner