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

According to Butler, Maharaj wanted to settle the dispute face-to-face. At Maharaj's request, Butler agreed to lure the elder Moo Young to Room 1215 of the DuPont Plaza, where Maharaj planned to reclaim his money.

Butler contends that when the Jamaican showed up — unexpectedly with his son — Maharaj jumped from behind the bathroom door with a gun. An argument ensued, and Maharaj shot Derrick Moo Young repeatedly. Butler claims he was ordered to tie up the son, who broke free and ran upstairs. Maharaj chased him down, Butler professes, and executed the young man he had known since he was a boy — a young man who had referred to Maharaj as "Uncle."

Butler alleges Maharaj then marched him, at gunpoint, to his car parked in front of the hotel, where the duo remained for the next three hours, watching for the police to arrive.

Koren Shadmi
Koren Shadmi

Butler's story was corroborated by the dozen sets of Maharaj's fingerprints found throughout the room, which Maharaj has never denied visiting. The projectiles and casings found at the scene were from a 9mm Smith & Wesson Model 39 gun, the same make and model Maharaj owned, one of 270,000 the company had produced to date.

However damaging, Butler's testimony was riddled with inconsistencies. The native Bahamian changed a number of elements of his story. First Butler said he was the one who reserved the room; then it was Maharaj. He admitted lying to police about when Maharaj allegedly appeared; first Butler claimed Maharaj showed up at the room unannounced after the Moo Youngs; then he said he leaped out from behind a door inside the suite after they had arrived. Butler also failed part of his polygraph — unlike Maharaj, who passed every question.

Lt. John Burhmaster says he "can't remember" why Butler was never given a paraffin test to corroborate his assertion that he did not fire a gun that morning, nor does Burhmaster recall why he neglected to examine or test Butler's clothing, even after the alleged eyewitness admitted he changed his blood-soaked attire before giving a statement. In fact Burhmaster failed to test any clothing or conduct any paraffin tests. "Maharaj had taken a shower," the lieutenant offers by way of explanation. Nor does Burhmaster, who today heads the Miami Police Department's homicide division, think it strange a murderer would kill two people, spare the only eyewitness, and then hold him at gunpoint for hours, yards away from the murder scene, before inexplicably allowing him to walk away.

The state's other main witness was Jamaican journalist Tino Geddes, who now lives in Kingston, where he freelances for the Sun-Sentinel, among other publications. Geddes had originally provided an alibi for Maharaj. The day after the murders, he told the Miami Herald: "I am certain that this man who I was sitting having a meal with [Maharaj, at Denny's] didn't shoot anybody shortly before that. From his demeanor, no human could sit there with his editor, his wife, and one of his main columnists and could put on an act like that."

But shortly before the trial, Geddes changed his story and testified Maharaj had been scheming to murder the Moo Youngs.

"At times, in better times, Kris was fun to be with, but there was a dark side and he had a temper," Geddes says in a thick Jamaican accent during a recent telephone interview with New Times. "The day he was arrested, he said, 'If anyone asks, you were with me.' At the time, I thought I was helping him; it was the sort of thing to do."

Geddes claims he was responsible for placing Maharaj in Fort Lauderdale at the time of the murders. "I convinced a businessman in Fort Lauderdale that events that actually happened on Wednesday were on the Thursday. It gave Kris an alibi."

When he realized the severity of the crimes with which his boss was charged, Geddes called his initial statement a complete lie. "Krishna Maharaj had solicited my assistance to murder certain people, including the Moo Youngs, at the very same hotel not two weeks before, but the Moo Youngs never turned up," Geddes told New Times. "On the second occasion he used Butler.... The rest is history.

"I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that he is guilty."

Defense investigator Ron Petrillo, who got to know Geddes in the runup to the trial, offers a very different take. "A few weeks before the trial, [Tino] disappeared," recalls Petrillo. "My first reaction was that something had happened to him. Then he called me late one night at my office, and I could tell by the crackling on the line that he was overseas.

"He said, 'I'm afraid,' and I told him I could arrange protection for him. The next time I saw him was as a witness for the prosecution."

Geddes laughs at the notion he was threatened. "That's a lot of rubbish," he says with a stupefied chuckle.

Further straining his credibility, Geddes admits to New Times that at the time of Maharaj's trial, he was facing criminal charges for illegally bringing ammunition into Jamaica from the United States. The two Florida attorneys who led the prosecution against Maharaj flew to Jamaica and testified on Geddes's behalf to help him escape a jail sentence that might have resulted in his being incarcerated during Maharaj's trial.

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