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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