Briton wins right to appeal

Murders/ trial 'near farce'
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The Independent Online
A BRITISH businessman's legal campaign to avoid death in the electric chair has gained a small victory. A US court has allowed him to appeal against his murder convictions later this month.

Krishna Maharaj's lawyers warned last week that he could be the victim of a "ridiculous" miscarriage of justice unless the Foreign Office intervenes to help him. Yesterday, however, the FO said it had no intention of getting involved.

Krishna Maharaj was born in Trinidad before moving to Britain in 1960 and becoming a wealthy race horse owner. Now he is the only British citizen on death row in the US.

He was convicted of killing Derrick and Duane Moo Young, two business associates, in a Miami hotel room in 1986. Prosecutors said the three were in dispute over money Mr Maharaj had invested in a Florida property company.

He persuaded Mr Young and his son to hand over two cheques for over $400,000 (pounds 250,000). When they bounced, the prosecution claimed, Mr Maharaj shot the Youngs with a Smith and Wesson revolver.

Serious doubts have been raised about the conduct of the trial. Clive Stafford Smith, who led the unsuccessful battle to save Briton Nicholas Ingram from execution in Georgia earlier this year, has taken up the case. So has Geoffrey Robertson QC, the leading London barrister.

The trial was a near farce, they say. One judge was taken away halfway through because of allegations of corruption and the prosecutor used crowd-pleasing tactics, including bursting into tears during his closing speech.

Mr Maharaj passed a lie-detector test when proclaiming his innocence. The only eyewitness against him failed a test.

The prosecution said that both victims were killed with bullets from one gun, but according to Mr Stafford Smith a ballistics report showed that they were shot with different firearms.

Mr Stafford Smith claims the prosecution ignored evidence that the Youngs were involved in the drug trade and were planning a $100 million fraud. He said there was evidence that they were victims of a gangland "hit".

Mr Robertson said: "It's highly unusual in a murder case to find so much evidence that indicates a different reason, motive andperpetrator for a killing."

The FO is unmoved by the arguments. Spokesman John Gardner said it "did not become involved in the legal situations of individuals" abroad.

Its stance has infuriated the lawyers. "The FO is notorious for not lifting a finger," said Mr Robertson. "Whenever a British citizen in jail needs help they say they can do nothing. It's as if they do not want to interrupt the cocktail circuit by dealing with dirty realities."