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

Police never investigated Hosein in the murders of the Moo Youngs. He wasn't even questioned.

Another potential player, Jaime Mejias, a Colombian importer/exporter from Medellín who rented Room 1214, across the hall from 1215, was linked to Hosein, documents show. "I questioned him," an indignant Lieutenant Burhmaster retorts, explaining how he chatted with Mejias from the doorway to his suite. Burhmaster says he peered inside the room, without entering, and "everything seemed fine." Mejias was ruled out as a suspect, according to Burhmaster, because he "seemed legit." The officer never verified Mejias's alibi, nor did he take his fingerprints.

After occupying an office on the sixth floor of the DuPont Plaza for more than seven years, Mejias disappeared immediately following the murders. He hasn't been seen since.

Koren Shadmi
Koren Shadmi

Conservative Member of Parliament Peter Bottomley gave up his seat at Princess Diana's 1997 funeral in Westminster Abbey to appear before a Florida appeals court on behalf of Krishna Maharaj.

He is one of aproximately 300 British politicians who have since signed a petition calling for a retrial of the Londoner. The list includes some high-ranking members of Prime Minister Gordon Brown's cabinet.

But despite the support, in 2004 Miami Magistrate Judge William C. Turnoff rejected Maharaj's request, stating that "newly discovered evidence which goes only to guilt or innocence is insufficient to warrant relief." Under Florida law, it seems, evidence that could prove a man's innocence is not enough to warrant action.

Last year, after the Supreme Court refused to hear his case, Maharaj ran out of legal options.

Throughout the 20-year ordeal, Maharaj's Portuguese-born wife Marita has remained thousands of miles from her friends in Britain and steadfast in her devotion. For the 15 years her husband was on death row, she regularly made the 700-mile round trip to the prison in Starke, northeast of Gainesville. Today the jovial middle-age beauty resides in Tamarac. "I got married to Kris for life; I married him because I love him. And I will be here as long as he needs me ... as long as it takes to get him out of this."

Clemency is her husband's only hope. At the mere mention of the hearing, which isn't likely to be held until 2008, Marita chuckles heartily. "I've already started packing. Believe it or not, I started boxing everything up ... ready for when Kris comes home...." The rich laughter soon fades to a weary sigh. "I laugh, yes, but this is not a joke. We have been through hell.... I just want for us to go home, to London, to live out the rest of our days quietly."

Back home, some of Britain's top legal minds are rallying to help. In August former British Attorney General Lord Goldsmith wrote to Gov. Charlie Crist: "The case concerns serious acts of double murder, and there is a real question whether they were committed by Mr. Maharaj." A second former British attorney general, Sir Nicholas Lyell, brands the case "a serious miscarriage of justice."

The odds of an unjust conviction in a capital case are greater in Florida than any other state in the Union. Since 1973, 124 death row inmates from 25 states have been exonerated and freed from prison. Almost one-fifth were convicted in Florida courts.

"I'm away from my wife and my family ... for something that I didn't do and I knew nothing about," the ailing 68-year-old muses during a 2004 BBC interview.

A lengthy pause. "This is a nightmare. It has to end."

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