Florida judges block appeal of innocent Brit serving life

Tallahassee, Florida (Reprieve) – A Florida appeals court yesterday denied permission for an elderly British businessman to appeal his life sentence.

On Thursday, the Florida Court of Appeals blocked a challenge to the conviction of 77 year old British national Kris Maharaj, who has spent nearly three decades in prison, with 16 of those years on death row, for a double murder he did not commit.

The court declined to write an opinion as to why Mr Maharaj should be denied a new trial, and refused to refer the case to the full court for review.

The appeal followed the denial of his request for a new trial, despite a week long hearing in November 2014 when Mr Maharaj’s lawyers 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.



In a quirk of Florida procedure, the Court of Appeals’ refusal to write more than the simple word “denied” means that Mr Maharaj’s state court options are now foreclosed. He must now seek justice from the federal courts, under rules of constitutional law where the issue of his innocence is not, technically, a reason for which he can be granted a new trial.

Commenting, Clive Stafford Smith of Reprieve, who has represented Kris pro bono for 24 years, said:

“Last time the Court wrote just one word, ‘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.”


This report prepared by Reprieve.