MPs and Peers: “Kris Maharaj is innocent, and must be freed.”

May 21, 2018

Image of Maharaj with his appeal in the background

A cross-party group of more than one hundred MPs and Peers has filed a legal brief in support of Kris Maharaj, a British citizen who has spent more than thirty years in prison in Florida for two murders he did not commit, despite compelling evidence of his innocence.

Bizarrely, the State of Florida, relying on a Supreme Court precedent, is arguing: “the existence merely of newly discovered evidence relevant to the guilt of a state prisoner is not a ground for relief on federal habeas corpus.” The parliamentarians argue that such a rule violates fundamental norms of international law, particularly in Kris’ case when the evidence of innocence is so clear.

Kris was living in Florida when Derrick and Duane Moo Young were shot dead in a Miami hotel in October 1986. He had six alibi witnesses, none of whom was called to testify at his trial – indeed his lawyer did not submit a defence at all. Prosecutors, police and the state’s key witness have all been shown to have lied in court.

After years of investigation, Reprieve’s Clive Stafford Smith discovered that the Moo Youngs were laundering billions of dollars for Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, and that his cartel had Derrick and Duane killed after they lost or stole some of that money. Five members of the cartel have given statements admitting that they were responsible for the murders.

At a federal hearing later this year, this evidence should be presented in court, together with dramatic testimony from a government informant and a retired DEA agent that the police knew who the real culprits were all along. However, the prosecution argues that it is all irrelevant and no hearing should be held.

The MPs and Peers have filed what’s known as an amicus brief, prepared by global law firm Reed Smith, in support of Kris’s innocence claim, noting that: “There is a growing world-wide consensus around the rights of convicted persons to present evidence of their innocence even when such evidence emerges outside the normal channels of trial or post-conviction review.” This is in addition to an amicus brief filed by the UK Foreign Office last month, demanding the release of documents that may prove authorities knew the cartel was responsible for the murders.

Kris is 79 years old and in poor health, the victim of an appalling miscarriage of justice that has already stolen thirty years of his life and kept him apart from his loving wife, Marita. The demand from Britain’s politicians could not be more clear: it is time to bring this innocent man home.

Reprieve’s founder, Clive Stafford-Smith said: “The suggestion that innocence is not relevant is simply mad. The British government and politicians from all parties recognise that the evidence of Kris’s innocence is overwhelming. Police and prosecutors had evidence that he was not the killer in 1986, but are still fighting 31 years later to keep him in prison. It’s time for the US justice system to accept that if they get the wrong man, the very least they must do is set him free.”

Michael Skrein, a senior litigation partner at Reed Smith said: “Mr Maharaj is a British citizen convicted and previously sentenced to death for a crime he did not commit. This application of over a hundred British parliamentarians, of various political persuasions and faiths, is to permit him to present evidence of his innocence in order to overturn that conviction.” A team at Reed Smith, led by Mr Skrein in London and senior appellate partner Raymond Cardozo in San Francisco, are working on the case pro bono.

Sir Peter Bottomley MP, said: “I have supported Kris and Marita Maharaj for over 20 years. We have met four times in his cells in court and in prisons. I believe the evidence shows he is innocent and that his conviction is unsafe. It is strange to the outsider that the Florida Attorney General argues, now that the evidence is clear, that innocence is not enough for a prisoner to be released. My motive in respectfully signing the Parliamentarians’ brief is to encourage our friends in America to clarify that innocence does justify release.”