Former owner Maharaj granted fresh hearing after new evidence
Krishna Maharaj, the former racehorse owner who has spent more than 30 years in prison in Florida for a double murder he insists he did not commit, has been granted a fresh hearing of his case.
A US appeals court accepted that Maharaj's lawyer Clive Stafford Smith, of human rights organisation Reprieve, has presented "compelling" new evidence which could have cleared the 78-year-old. The evidence will be considered by a single judge at a federal hearing in Miami.
Maharaj once owned a 100-plus string of horses and enjoyed Royal Ascot success when King Levanstell won the 1974 Queen Alexandra Stakes. He spent 15 years on death row after being convicted of the 1986 murders of Derrick and Duane Moo Young in a Miami hotel room before the sentence was commuted to two life terms in 2002.
Stafford Smith has argued the killings were carried out by a hitman on the orders of now-dead Colombian drug cartel boss Pablo Escobar and has found witnesses to support the claim.
The new ruling from the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta said: "Mr Maharaj has made a prima facie showing that his new evidence, when viewed in light of the evidence as a whole, would demonstrate that he could not have been found guilty of the Moo Young murders beyond a reasonable doubt because if a hit man for the cartel committed the murders, Mr Maharaj did not."
The judgment said the additional witnesses had presented "compelling" accounts that "independently corroborate one another’s" and that "all five individuals’ stories reflect that the Moo Youngs were killed by the cartel".
As part of the new proceedings Maharaj’s lawyers will be able to access previously unexamined evidence showing that Jaime Vallejo Mejia, a guest in the hotel on the night of the murders, was a Colombian cartel operative.
Stafford Smith, who has represented Maharaj for 24 years, said: "We still have a long way to go, as we need to force disclosure of the rest of the evidence the government has held all these years. But it's a great day for Kris and I hope now we'll finally get him the justice he's long been denied."
Maharaj's wife Marita said: "At last perhaps everyone will see the truth. Kris will be thrilled. He has been unwell, but this will finally give him hope."