Nearly 30 years ago, international food importer and newspaper owner Krishna “Kris” Maharaj, a British citizen who lived in South Florida was arrested in October 1986 for shooting and deaths of his business partners Derrick Moo Young and his 23-year-old son Duane.
Despite having an alibi, Maharaj was charged with murdering the Moo Youngs because they allegedly had cheated him out of more than $400,000. He was found guilty and sentenced to death – a penalty that was later reduced to life in prison. Maharaj has remained in prison for 27 years.
Then, in April of this year, a Florida granted Maharak a chance that could open the door to freedom. Florida 11th Judicial Circuit Judge William Thomas scheduled a hearing for November to determine if new evidence from Maharaj’s lawyers “undermines confidence in the verdict.” According to court documents, defense attorneys must establish that new evidence would probably produce an acquittal or less severe sentence on retrial.
Maharaj’s lawyer planned to call witnesses who claimed to be former members of the infamous Colombian drug cartel led by Escobar. In the late 1970s and early 80’s, Escobar crashed in on the exploding popularity of cocaine in the United States, according to reporter Mark Bowden, author of “Killing Pablo.” Leading the Medellin Cartel, Escobar was responsible for almost 80% of Colombia’s cocaine exports, making him the seventh richest man in the world.
Escobar was killed in a rooftop shootout with authorities in 1993. According to a motion filed in January by Maharaj’s attorneys, a “Colombian drug cartel member confirmed that the Moo Young murders were committed at the behest of Pablo Escobar.”
“The Moo Youngs were laundering money for the Colombian cartels,” the defense motion said.” This is what precipitated their murders.” An ex-cartel member confirmed that “Maharaj was not involved in the murders of the Moo Youngs, and that they had to be eliminated because they had lost Colombian drug money,” according to the defense motion.
Smith announced that the defense team will also present evidence that alleges Florida prosecutors covered up evidence in the 1987 trial that could have proved Maharaj’s innocence.
With four months until the hearing date, the event is already shaping up a feisty courtroom battle. Strongly worded arguments have been flying back and forth via filed court documents. In January, Assistant State Attorneys Penny Brill and Sally Weintraub wrote that a defense motion for the new hearing was based on “hearsay and inadmissible evidence.”
“None of the potential witnesses named the defense motion have any first hand knowledge, provide no admissible testimony or evidence and only attempt to further the nonsensical and wholly speculative theories of the defense,” the prosecution document said.
“The only thing that is obvious to anyone who really looks at these fantastical allegations by the defendant is that they are empty and have no substance,” wrote the prosecutors.
Now aged 75, Maharaj has been in poor health, Smith said, although he seems to have improved. Police found Maharaj’s fingerprints in the guest room at Miami’s Dupont Plaza hotel where the shootings occurred. Maharaj says he was there to meet the Moo Youngs, but he departed before the Moo Youngs arrived and were killed. Nineteen fingerprints found at the crime scene have never been identified, according to the defense motion.
Maharaj told “Death Row Stories” that he left the hotel without meeting the Moo Youngs and drove 25 miles to Fort Lauderdale to have lunch with one of his newspaper employees. The employee signed an affidavit as an alibi witness. The restaurant manager, Ron Kisch, told “Death Row Stories,” he remembered seeing Maharaj having lunch that day.
“It doesn’t seem like there’s any way possible that he could have killed people at 12 o’clock and then been in for lunch sometime between 12 and 2,” Kisch said. Five other witnesses came forward saying Maharaj was with them on the day of the murders, “Death Row Stories” reported.
Across the hall from the murder scene at the time of the killings, said the defense team, was a Colombian hotel guest named Vallejo Mejia. Police briefly questioned Mejia at the time, according to defense documents. He was a “longtime money launderer who was frequently in Miami,” the documents said.