Murder trial of British businessman in America was 'riddled with flaws'

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The Independent US

New and serious doubt has been cast on the conviction for murder 18 years ago in Florida of Krishna Maharaj, a former British businessman and millionaire racehorse owner, who has consistently protested his innocence.

New and serious doubt has been cast on the conviction for murder 18 years ago in Florida of Krishna Maharaj, a former British businessman and millionaire racehorse owner, who has consistently protested his innocence.

A report by Newsnight to be screened tonight and tomorrow on BBC2 at 10.30pm detailing multiple apparent flaws in the case is expected to spur fresh calls for a retrial for Maharaj, who was on Death Row in Florida until two years ago, when his sentence was commuted to 50 years behind bars. But in poor health, he faces dying in prison for a murder he says he did not commit.

"This is the closest thing to hell," Maharaj told the BBC. "It will be 18 years on October 16 since I was arrested - and it's long, it's like 18 hundred years in a place like this."

Born in Trinidad, in 1960 he came to Britain, where he made his fortune with a business importing exotic fruit. He became a Rolls-Royce-driving tycoon, with horses in the most prestigious races in the country.

His life imploded in October 1986, when he was arrested for the murder of two men in a hotel room in Miami.

As well as highlighting the alibis from five witnesses who said Maharaj was 30 miles north of Miami in Fort Lauderdale at the time of the murders, between 11am and noon - witnesses who were never called to testify in his trial - Newsnight also interviews a sixth witness, not heard from before, who insists that she also saw him in Fort Lauderdale at that time.

The programme goes further to explain why Maharaj's defence team are keen to question another Trinidadian man, Adam Hosein, over the murders of Derrick and Duane Moo Young. A former employee of Mr Hosein has spoken to the BBC about his activities on that day.

Among those likely to press the British Government to take fresh action in the Maharaj case is Sir Nicholas Lyell, a former Conservative attorney general. "There are real reasons for thinking that he may have been framed, that crucial evidence about the principal prosecution witness may not have been disclosed, indeed was not disclosed, that he was inadequately represented," Sir Nicholas tells the BBC.

Working to rescue Maharaj from the American judicial system is the well-known anti-capital punishment campaigner and trial lawyer Clive Stafford Smith. For years, until recently, Mr Stafford Smith, who is British, worked from New Orleans to have innocent death penalty prisoners pardoned.

Mr Stafford Smith is convinced that the Moo Youngs were killed in a drug deal that went awry and that Maharaj was framed. "The Moo Youngs were murdered because they were skimming money off the Columbia drug cartel and we can document the fact that they were taking a percentage of the Columbia drug cartel's money and we're talking millions of dollars. That's why they were murdered," he contended.

Maharaj has never denied that he was in the murder room in the DuPont Plaza hotel early on the morning of 16 October 1986, allegedly for a business meeting. The meeting never took place and Maharaj said he then left and drove to Fort Lauderdale, where he visited the printing plant of a newspaper he partly owned and took lunch. But that meant that the fingerprints of Maharaj were all over the room. His defence at the trial quickly collapsed and the five witnesses who said they saw him in Fort Lauderdale were never called.

Bizarrely, the trial's original judge was led off in handcuffs early in the proceedings, accused of taking bribes in another case. Maharaj has claimed the judge also approached him about a bribe.

Newsnight tracked down Dr Marianne Cook in Fort Lauderdale, who for the first time says she definitely saw him there at the time of the killings. She was the manager of a building where he had an office and he asked her about getting a table. "I have no doubt. I haven't any doubt at all," she said.

More crucial may be the claims of George Abchal, who ran a garage in Miami at the time. His boss was Adam Hosein. Mr Abchal says that in days before the killings he drove with Mr Hosein to the house of the Moo Youngs. He says Mr Hosein had gone to buy cocaine, although he did not have the cash for it and already owed them money. The Moo Youngs allegedly threw him out. According to what Mr Abchal told the BBC, a gun and a silencer kept in Mr Hosein's drawer had gone. Mr Abchal has never been called to testify in the case.

Mr Hosein was tracked down by the BBC in Trinidad and followed by the crew on a plane to Florida. Using abusive language, he refused to talk to the BBC.

A special investigation by Tim Samuels into the case of Krishna Maharaj will be broadcast tonight and tomorrow on 'Newsnight' on BBC2 at 10.30pm