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British Man Imprisoned for Florida Murders 'Framed' by Drug Lord Pablo Escobar, Ex-Hitman Claims

A notorious assassin for Colombian kingpin Pablo Escobar said he wanted to clear his conscience in an affidavit to a court assessing the case of Kris Maharaj, who has served 28 years in prison for the killings in a Miami hotel.
November 14, 2014, 5:55pm
Photo: Reuters

A British man imprisoned in a Florida jail for a double murder was framed by the drug lord Pablo Escobar, a notorious hitman who worked for the Colombian kingpin has testified.

Kris Maharaj could be freed after 28 years in prison following his conviction for the 1986 killings of business associates Derrick and Duane Moo Young in a Miami hotel room.

Henry Cuervo, a former US Drug Enforcement Administration Agent, told a court on Thursday that ex-hitman Jhon Jairo Velásquez Vásquez had confessed to him that Escobar arranged the hit on the Moo Youngs.


In the phone call, Cuervo said that Velásquez wanted to clear his conscience and had asked Cuervo to testify on his behalf. He also submitted an affidavit from Velásquez — a cartel assassin known as "Popeye" who was recently released from prison in Colombia, where he is reviled as one of the country's most infamous killers.

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Velásquez was recently released from a 30-year sentence for multiple assassinations arranged by Escobar, and is currently in hiding in Colombia.

Maharaj, 75, is fighting for a retrial after a wealth of information linking the killing to Pablo Escobar's drug cartel was disclosed by former cartel members, police officers and informants.

Yesterday was the fourth and final day of the evidentiary hearing, in which a judge will decide whether there is enough evidence to justify a retrial.

Earlier in the week the court also heard from former Miami police officer Michael Flynn who said that Maharaj had been framed in a plot to mask the real killers.

Former cartel member Jorge Maya testified by taped deposition that the murders were ordered by Escobar and carried out by a man called Cuchilla ('the blade') for a fee of one million dollars

Lawyers acting for Maharaj hope that the judge will reach a written ruling on by Christmas.

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Maharaj originally received the death penalty and was on death row for 15 years, but that sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in 2002 due to violations in due process at his trial, and in April this year he was granted a hearing to assess new evidence.

Speaking to VICE News, Maharaj's wife Marita, 74, said she had anticipated her husband's release many times over the years.

"It's like they're knocking you over the head," she said. "You say how can this be - they have witnesses, they have proof, and they still don't release him, you know? So it is very painful.

"I try not to think about it because if you start to put your hopes too high and then things go wrong, it's devastating.'

She added that she was optimistic that the judge would grant a retrial.

"I think for the first time we have a decent honest judge that is there to serve justice. He is there to do the right thing. That's the impression of the judge. You never had that before," she said.

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Clive Stafford-Smith, Maharaj's lawyer and director of international legal non-profit Reprieve, told VICE News: "We had a hearing in 1997 and at that hearing we presented more evidence than I ever had in a case for an unfair trial. I was horrified back then and that was 17 years ago.

"Since then we've had a re-sentencing of the trial and we've kept on plugging away, but it's very, very hard to get Colombian cartel people to admit they did crimes and frankly it's been very dangerous and fraught.

"It's been a tough and long week but we've put on some astounding evidence. We've had two cartel members who have said that [the cartel] committed the murder. We've had two federal and state informants for the cartels who said that the cartels did the murder. I don't know how much really more we can do that."

Follow Ben Bryant on Twitter: @benbryant