British Man May Have Florida Double Murder Conviction Overturned After 28 Years in Prison

Kris Maharaj was given the death penalty for the 1986 killings in a Miami hotel. Now, a court has heard evidence that Pablo Escobar's Medellin drug cartel carried out the murders — and that police officers helped frame him.

by Ben Bryant
Nov 14 2014, 11:18am

Photo: Reuters

A British man who has spent 28 years in a Florida prison may have his double murder conviction overturned following a wealth of new evidence suggesting that he was framed for a crime orchestrated by Colombia's Medellin drug cartel.

Kris Maharaj, whose time in prison included 15 years on death row, was found guilty in 1987 of murdering Duane and Derrick Moo Young in a Miami hotel, but has always protested his innocence and doubts have been cast over the safety of his conviction. 

Now, a Miami court has heard evidence that the killings were ordered by the notorious Medellin cartel kingpin Pablo Escobar and that Maharaj was set up to take the fall in a conspiracy involving police officers. 

The evidence, which includes statements from former members of the cartel and of the police force, has been heard at a Miami evidentiary hearing — a preliminary hearing to decide whether there is enough evidence to proceed to trial.

Maharaj originally received the death penalty 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 unearthed by Clive Stafford Smith, a lawyer and director of legal non-profit organization Reprieve.

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On Wednesday, witness Prince Ellis identified Neville Butler as a man he encountered near the crime scene with blood all over his clothes.

Ellis said Butler was among a group of men who went to the 12th-floor room at the Dupont Plaza hotel in Miami where Derrick Moo Young and his son Duane were shot on 16 October 1986.

Lawyers acting for Maharaj, now 75, claim that Butler's cartel links make him the likely killer, along with accomplice Eddie Dames who was allegedly seen with him at the hotel on the day.

Former Miami police officer Michael Flynn also testified on Wednesday that Maharaj had been "hooked up," or framed, in a plot to mask the real killers.

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In an affidavit submitted in the case, he said: "I visited the scene of the crime when it happened. I know that Mr Maharaj was framed because one of the officers in charge of investigating the double murder told me flat out that they were going to do this."

The court also heard from cartel member Jorge Maya, who 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.

Baruch Vega, a former government informant, said that Derrick Moo Young had been involved in money laundering and had lost Escobar's money.

He added that a Colombian cartel member had been staying in a hotel room opposite the one in which the murders took place.

On Monday, former Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agent Henry Cuervo agreed that Colombian cartels carried out the Young murders.

The court will hear the last day of evidence on Friday.

Clive Stafford Smith, Maharaj's lawyer, told VICE News in a statement: "Yesterday saw more powerful evidence that Kris Maharaj is innocent. It is a shame this testimony is being heard 28 years later than it should have. There will be one more day of evidence and then I sincerely hope — and expect — that justice will be done, and Kris will be released."

Follow Ben Bryant on Twitter: @benbryant