US court grants hearing to Brit held for 30 years
April 4, 2017
A British man who was wrongly sentenced to death in 1987 will be allowed a fresh hearing, based on evidence of his innocence, a US appeals court has ruled.
Kris Maharaj, 78, has always maintained his innocence after he was sentenced to death over the 1986 murders of Derrick and Duane Moo Young in a Miami hotel room. He has been held for over 30 years, and had his death sentence commuted to life imprisonment in 2002.
Mr Maharaj’s lawyer at the human rights organization Reprieve, Clive Stafford Smith, has presented new evidence from people linked to Colombian drug cartels, who have conceded that they – not Mr Maharaj – committed the crime.
The new ruling from the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta says: “Mr. Maharaj has made a prima facie showing that his new evidence, when viewed in light of the evidence as a whole, would demonstrate that he could not have been found guilty of the Moo Young murders beyond a reasonable doubt because if a hit man for the cartel committed the murders, Mr. Maharaj did not.”
The judgment said that the additional witnesses had presented “compelling” accounts that “independently corroborate one another’s […] All five individuals’ stories reflect that the Moo Youngs were killed by the cartel.”
The case will now move back to Miami for a federal hearing before a single judge, who will consider the new evidence.
As part of the proceedings, Mr Maharaj’s lawyers will also be able to access previously unexamined evidence showing that Jaime Vallejo Mejia – a guest in the hotel on the night of the murders – was a Colombian cartel operative.
Clive Stafford Smith, founder of Reprieve and pro bono lawyer for Kris Maharaj for 24 years, said:
“We still have a long way to go, as we need to force disclosure of the rest of the evidence the government has held all these years. But it is a great day for Kris, and I hope now we will finally get him the justice he has long been denied.”
Marita Maharaj, 77, Kris’ wife:
“At last perhaps everyone will see the truth. Kris will be thrilled. He has been unwell, but this will finally give him hope.”
Notes to editors:
1.Reprieve is an international human rights organization. Reprieve’s London office can be contacted on: communications [at] reprieve [dot] org [dot] uk/ +44 (0) 207 553 8140. Reprieve US, based in New York City, can be contacted on Katherine [dot] oshea [at] reprieve.org/ +1 917 855 8064.
2. The new judgment is available here.
3. Further detail on Kris Maharaj’s case is available at the Reprieve website, here