Archive for the ‘Florida’ Category


The disgraceful treatment of this man in Florida continues.  The American justice system shamed

WE attach the latest message from Reprieve about this man’s continuing incarceration in Florida despite his innocence being demonstrated beyond doubt.  We have written about this case before.

Every time I [Clive Stafford Smith] think that Kris Maharaj cannot be subjected to any more injustice, agents of the State of Florida comes up trumps.  I last visited Kris in the euphemistically named South Florida Reception in September.  I went to share the good news that the Magistrate Judge had set a hearing for October 17th.  This meant we would finally be allowed to prove that his trial was manifestly unfair – and the last 33 years he’s spent in Florida’s prison system are unjust.

I should have known the devastating impact of a broken justice system could not be remedied so quickly – 33 years and counting.  The Magistrate had already agreed that we had submitted proof such that no reasonable juror could now convict Kris of the murders of Derrick and Duane Moo Young in Room 1215 of Miami’s Dupont Plaza Hotel all those years ago on October 16th, 1986.  We dismantled every element of the prosecution case against Kris, and obtained sworn testimony from six unimpeached alibi witnesses who placed him far away. Kris even passed his lie detector test: the prosecution’s star witness did not.

Lastly, we lined up half a dozen Colombian cartel witnesses who expressed shock that Kris was locked up for killing the Moo Youngs.  The murders were a hit ordered by Pablo Escobar, they said – the Moo Youngs had been stealing from the Narcos and “had to die.”  One might imagine that this would be sufficient for Kris to be restored to the arms of his long-suffering wife Marita, but under current U.S. precedent it is – we are told – possible that a fair trial should come to the wrong result.  Hence, logic mandates, the mere fact that you are innocent is not enough: you must prove the trial was itself marred.

I stayed with Marita the night before my prison visit. She lives a lonely life in Florida, only permitted to visit her husband every week or two.  Those visits are sacred to both of them.  The only disciplinary sanction Kris has got in the last three decades he has spent in prison involved a violation of the visitation policy – he stole a second kiss with his wife, when the rules only allow one.  Marita’s cottage is a shrine to the life they once had, with pictures of the couple in their London heyday, when Kris was a self-made millionaire.

She served me breakfast at the table where, every Christmas for the past 33 years, she has set a place for her husband, maintaining the fantasy that he might walk in any moment.  In the prison visitation area, Kris and I planned for his hearing. Though the Magistrate had only given us three weeks to prepare, we would meet the deadline. After all, it meant that Kris and Marita might – at long last – actually share their Christmas dinner this year.

AFTER 26 years working on the case, we were ready to prove multiple constitutional violations – from the suppression of exculpatory evidence (a government informant told them in 1986 that the cartel committed the murders), to the fact that the judge had himself been arrested on the third day of the trial for taking a bribe from a law enforcement agent posing as a drug dealer.

The first slap came with the State’s request for three months extra to prepare. That may not seem much, but it takes us into 2020, by which time Kris will be 81-years-old and Marita 80.  The potential knock-out blow came the next day when the State filed an appeal, to try to prevent the hearing altogether.  For 20 pages they argued that Kris should be barred from presenting evidence at all.  It is all nonsense, of course.

They even had the gall to argue that we have not been diligent in pursuing proof of innocence, when I have been to Colombia and back to get it.  We will do what we have always done: trudge on towards justice, hoping to persuade the appellate judge to respond with expedition.  Meanwhile the State’s lawyers callously run down the clock on Kris’s life.  I do sometimes wonder how people sleep at night.  I know I have often not been able to in the 26 years when Kris and Marita have been my responsibility, but that is because I fear I have not done enough, rather than too much.

I am working with Kris and the team at Reprieve to prepare for Kris’ trial in January. Hopefully, no other blows hit us between now and then.  Kris and Marita should not have to spend any more time apart because of an unfair trial 33 years ago.

Thank you for reading,

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Briton now has to wait until January for his release

In a recent post we described the situation Kris Maharaj has experienced in Florida USA where he has been imprisoned for 33 years for a crime he did not commit.  There was to be a hearing on 17th of this month but we have just heard from Reprieve that this has been put back until January.   The message from Reprieve is copied below:

Justice delayed is justice denied.

Since you wrote your message of support to Kris Maharaj and his wife Marita, I’m sorry to say there has been a frustrating development.  Kris’ chance at justice was set for October 17th – but yesterday we heard it will not even happen this year.

That’s because the Florida Department of Corrections immediately sought and was granted a 90-day extension until January 18th 2020.  90 days may not sound like a lot, but Kris and his wife Marita have already been waiting 33 years for this nightmare to end.

Any delay is an injustice – and this will take us almost to Kris’ 81st birthday. We need to make sure they do not lose hope.

Can you share this latest instalment of injustice with your friends and family and ask them to add their own words of support?  Here’s a suggested message you can send them:

Kris is a British man who was charged with a murder he could not have committed.  Yet he remains in a Florida prison.  His chance at justice has again been delayed, this time for another 90 days. Add your words of support to Kris and his wife Marita as they endure the latest instalment of their ordeal: https://act.reprieve.org.uk/page/s/send-a-message-of-support-to-kris-and-marita

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UPDATE:  Reprieve have sent through a request to send a message of support to Kris and this can be accessed here.  (24 September 2019)

We report – via Reprieve – the good news that a Briton held for 33 years in Florida, has gained the chance of release about 4 years after it was proved he was innocent.  We have received an email from them which is reproduced in full below:

I’ve [Clive Stafford Smith] just had some incredibly exciting news on the case of Kris Maharaj, the Brit who has already spent 33 unjust years in Florida’s prison system for a murder he did not commit. Kris will finally have an evidentiary hearing on October 17th.  The meaning of that might not be initially obvious, but I assure you it’s a very significant development. It’s one I have been pushing for, for a long time.  It means that Kris finally has the chance to prove in a US federal court that he should not have been deprived of his liberty for more than three decades, let alone have been sentenced to death.

I’ve been involved in more than 400 capital cases over the years, and Kris’ is the greatest injustice of them all.  Evidence uncovered in 2014 proved beyond doubt that Kris is not guilty of the murders for which he has been imprisoned.  The state trial court nevertheless refused to order a new trial at the time.  That’s why I’ve been pushing for a Federal evidentiary hearing.

When I took on this case back in 1993, I had no grey hairs.  Twenty-six years on, you’d be hard pushed to find a hair on my head that isn’t grey or white – and a fair number of them have been caused by the traumas of Kris’ case. But just imagine the impact of the last 33 years on Kris and his wife Marita.  It is hard to believe that we could get justice after all the crushing disappointments we’ve been through over the years, but perhaps – just perhaps – Kris will finally come home for his first Christmas in more than three decades.
The possibility of justice would never have arisen were it not for the kindness of all his supporters.  Both Kris and Marita have said their hope wouldn’t have lasted this long without the support they get from the Reprieve community.

It’s going to be a busy month ahead as I prepare for this hearing, but the Campaigns team at Reprieve will be in touch to update you in the run-up to the 17th October.  Thank you, as always, for your support of Reprieve so we can help many people like Kris and Marita.

We reviewed on these pages, a book, Injustice, on this case by Stafford Smith making the point how unsound the American system is.   So Kris is likely to walk free but it is important to bear in mind that he might have been executed by now.  The book goes into remorseless detail about the inadequacies of the American trial system.  We are conditioned by Hollywood films and TV about how heroic it is but for the poor, the system is rotten.  The police do not have to release evidence to the defence (defense) which helps the defendant, a situation which happened in the UK before PACE was passed.

This is an uplifting story but tragically, he has had to spend over 3 decades in gaol for a crime he did not commit.

A search of his name comes up with a photograph of him with the caption ‘Kris Maharaj, murderer’.

Piece by the Sun newspaper on this case.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Latest Death Penalty report

The latest death penalty report for June/July is available thanks to group member Lesley for the hard work in compiling it.

Death Penalty report


If you would like to join the local group – because for example you have strong convictions against the use of the death penalty – you would be most welcome.  Or you can just write using one of the urgent actions in the report above.

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Reggie Clemons (picture Amnesty USA)


Life and death in the courtrooms of America

It sometimes comes as a shock to people that the only country in the Americas which still has the death penalty is the USA.  It is especially favoured by the southern states such as Louisiana, Texas and Florida and we have on many occasions on this blog mentioned particular cases where the wrong man is convicted of a crime or where the evidence is at best doubtful.

Our view here in the UK of the justice system in America is heavily conditioned by Hollywood films, on screen or on TV, which give a highly biased view of the real life situation.  In these depictions, an innocent man or woman has been wrongfully arrested.  Clean cut lawyers appear for the defendant and there is a tense meeting in the DA’s office.  At some point, the defence (or defense if you’re reading this in the USA) lawyer says ‘we’re outa here’ and they all sweep out.  Hearings, such as a Grand Jury happen as if by magic and subsequent court appearances take place soon after.  Few episodes can go by without a lawyer saying someone’s ‘Miranda rights have been infringed’ and more people sweep out.  Everyone is dedicated to securing justice with the exception of one individual (a witness, police officer or someone needed for the plot) who is found out at the end.  More clean cut young people find a tiny and crucial piece of evidence and this is sufficient to set a defendant free, often in the last minute or so of the trial.  The overall impression is of a system that works – albeit uncertainly at times – with the good guy getting off at the end.

If you read Clive Stafford Smith’s book Injustice * you will find that these Hollywood stories are for many in the States, fiction.  Clive has spent many years in the USA helping people on death row, the majority of whom should not be there.  The book is about one individual, Krishna Maharaj (pictured), who was on death row in Florida for 28 years before being released.  It is a truly astonishing book with 110 pages of detailed notes and describes the dysfunctional legal system in states such a Florida.

The problem – bizarrely – is that an innocent man or woman is often more at risk that someone who is guilty.  Innocent people believe, often wrongly to their cost, that they don’t have to prove anything because they are innocent.  There cannot be any evidence to prove they did it because they didn’t.  They also think that the justice system is unbiased and the truth will out eventually, a ‘touching faith’ as Clive describes it.

 

The book explores these issues in great detail.  America elects its law officers and so there is great pressure to convict to prove to the electorate that you are ‘tough on crime’.  Sentencing people to death is a great way to prove this.  Unlike recent changes to the justice system in the UK, the defence has no right of disclosure.  So the police need only present evidence allegedly proving guilt, and not reveal evidence that proves the defendant innocent.  This practice was also commonplace in the UK before new rules were introduced following some high profile injustices were discovered.  In Florida, because of the enormous amount of money flooding in to the state from the drug barons, corruption is rife throughout the justice system.  Amazingly, the judge himself in Krishna’s trial was arrested for bribery and corruption after three days of hearings.  The police are often themselves involved in the drugs trade.

 

So if the judge was arrested, then surely the trial should start afresh?  No, because defence lawyers are paid so little and on a block fee basis, to start again is something they cannot afford, so they just ploughed on with a new judge.   The quality of defence lawyers is frequently poor and they fail to cross-examine properly, call relevant witnesses or even to meet the defendant that often.  The problem here is that if through incompetence or otherwise the defence lawyer does not raise the issues at trial, then appeal courts will rule matters to be ‘procedurally barred’ subsequently.

So alibis are not called, forensic evidence not challenged, police witnesses’ changes in evidence not challenged and so on and so on.  The result was an innocent man narrowly escaping death row for a crime he did not commit and which was committed it was eventually discovered, by someone acting for a drug cartel.  The man murdered was ‘skimming’ drug profits.  Errors are so great and so frequent that justice would better be served if it was done on the basis of a coin toss.  Fewer would be executed on this basis.

Clive Stafford Smith is an extraordinary lawyer but he is also a great story teller and this account of Kris Maharaj death row case is a powerful thriller beautifully told.  Helena Kennedy QC [senior lawyer in the UK]

Passionate and Humane Mail onSunday

This is a highly recommended book for anyone interested in the justice system.  If you have written letters to governors and others in the States it will explain a lot.  Clive Stafford Smith was the founder of Reprieve.

A story about the case in Miami Herald

*Injustice by Clive Stafford Smith, Vintage books, 2013


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Swindon Lawyer goes to Florida to work on death row cases

A former Swindon Amnesty member and lawyer, Catherine Dunmore, has secured funds from a crowdsourcing site to enable her to go to the state of Florida in the USA to work on first degree murder cases.  She has been there three weeks now and she has a blog which is worth reading.  Florida is one of the states still using the death penalty.

texas executionWe hope you will follow her blog and also be moved to send funds to her crowdfunding site.


This is the latest urgent action, this time for the ‘sunshine’ state of Florida.  Urgent Actions are a key part of Amnesty activity and we ask that people spare a moment or two to write a letter or letters to the people texas executionconcerned.  You can try emailing but these are frequently blocked.  You can read the details in the attachment below.  If you can write it would be appreciated.  Our monthly death penalty report is available.

Urgent Action