British Ex-Millionaire Fights for Freedom

Krishna Maharaj went from the high life to a life sentence for a crime he might not have committed

When security guard Jorge Aparicio arrived at the DuPont Plaza in downtown Miami for his 7:00 a.m. shift Thursday October 16, 1986, Biscayne Boulevard was still cloaked in darkness.

Aside from the sleepy-eyed staff trickling into work, the hotel was quiet — almost peaceful. Nothing stirred on the 12th floor. Midway along the narrow hallway, some 100 feet east of the elevator, a maid looked in on Room 1215 and noted it was completely still. The curtains were pulled shut, the furniture polished. The twin beds at the top of the two-story suite's wooden staircase were just as they had been the evening before — bedspreads pulled taut, pillows fluffed, sheets neatly smoothed. Clean towels hung in the bathroom. Soap, still in its paper wrapper, sat beside the sink. The penthouse suite was clean, orderly, and empty.

As the hours ticked by, no one — not the 30 hotel workers on the floor below, nor the housekeeper assigned to the penthouse level, nor the hotel security guards — spotted anyone enter or exit the room. Nor do they recall overhearing anything out of the ordinary.

Koren Shadmi
Koren Shadmi

Shortly after noon, a scarlet-color mark on the pale carpet outside the door caught the eye of a passing maid.

It looked like blood.

Alarmed, she notified security.

"I knocked and [asked] if there is anything wrong," Aparicio later told police. A male voice, he contends, responded. "No, there is no problem," the man assured him through the closed door. "Everything is fine."

Ten minutes later the curious guard returned and rapped again. This time his quizzical tapping was met with an eerie silence. He cracked the door and ventured inside.

The room was in a shambles. Streaks of blood crossed the tile floor. Bullets, their casings strewn randomly around the suite, had torn holes in the furnishings.

On the floor a few feet away, Aparicio saw the first body. Fifty-three-year-old Jamaican Derrick Moo Young lay on his back, feet facing the door. He had been shot six times.

Upstairs the guard found Moo Young's 23-year-old son, Duane, slumped at the foot of a bed. He had been killed by a single bullet fired into his skull at close range, execution style.

Krishna Maharaj awoke October 16, 1986, and donned a white guayabera and dark pants. Shortly after 7:45 a.m., he climbed behind the wheel of his wife's blue Chevrolet Caprice and headed away from the couple's home in western Broward County, toward Miami.

The burly 47-year-old had gone from meager beginnings in Trinidad, struggling to be heard in a family of 13, to driving a truck to make ends meet, to becoming an importer in the United Kingdom. In England the jovial Londoner's name was as synonymous with high society as it was with a back-breaking work ethic and humility. His trade in bananas and West Indian produce had made him a millionaire.

When he and his wife Marita moved to the United States in the mid-Eighties to escape the British weather, Maharaj decided to try his hand at a new career: publishing. In 1985 he partnered with Derek Jhagroo, a Plantation doctor, to launch a small weekly, the Caribbean Times. They set about drumming up business in South Florida's tight-knit Caribbean community.

According to Maharaj, he was on one such errand that October morning in 1986, heading to the DuPont Plaza Hotel to meet a Bahamian businessman to discuss distributing the paper overseas. Maharaj would later come to believe the meeting was a trap — one he unwittingly walked into.

The 8:30 meeting, he says, was arranged by Neville Butler, a writer from a rival publication he'd hired as a freelancer a few weeks prior. By the time Maharaj parked in front of the hotel, Butler was there to greet him, and the two men headed up to Room 1215 to wait. Maharaj says he lounged around, sipped a soda, and watched a little television. When nobody had arrived by 10:20, the busy publisher left. At noon he had an appointment with a real estate agent in Margate to look over a strip mall he was interested in purchasing.

It was just after 11:00 when he pulled into the parking lot of his printing press in Fort Lauderdale and bumped into his friend, Caribbean Times staff writer Tino Geddes. The reporter was en route to a nearby café, and Maharaj decided to join him for a beer. Maharaj picked up the check and then split. "He paid, yeah," Geddes later testified, chuckling. "Kris always paid the check whenever we went out."

Maharaj and his accountant, George Bell, met with the real estate agent. Afterward, around 1:00, he invited the two men to lunch. According to the manager at Tark's seafood restaurant in Dania Beach, Maharaj enjoyed some oysters, washed them down with a beer, and paid the bill. He headed back to Margate with his two associates. The trio didn't part ways, documents show, until 3:30.

Shortly after nightfall, a City of Miami homicide detective received a call from Neville Butler, who claimed to have seen two people shot dead in a hotel room that afternoon. The killer, he claimed, was Krishna Maharaj, and he could be found at a Denny's near Miami International Airport.

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