Guess what? It’s raining

Deborah Friedell

  • Injustice: Life and Death in the Courtrooms of America by Clive Stafford Smith
    Harvill Secker, 376 pp, £18.99, July 2012, ISBN 978 1 84655 625 8

On 16 October 1986 a maid went into a downtown Miami hotel room and found two dead bodies. One was tied to a chair, riddled with bullets; the other was kneeling, shot through the head. They were Derrick Moo Young, aged 53, and his son Duane Moo Young, 23, businessmen from Jamaica who had looked after properties in Fort Lauderdale owned by the man who would be accused of killing them, Krishna Maharaj, a Trinidadian national and British citizen. A few months before the murder, Maharaj had accused the Moo Youngs of stealing from him and his relatives in Trinidad, and the men had argued. Maharaj’s fingerprints were found throughout the hotel room. The murder weapon was never discovered, but a ballistics expert testified that it had most likely been a 9mm Smith & Wesson. Maharaj’s gun collection had included a 9mm Smith & Wesson though he claimed it had been stolen from him shortly before the murders.

The star witness for the prosecution was Neville Butler, a reporter on the Caribbean Echo, a small newspaper that served West Indians in Miami. Butler testified that Maharaj had paid the newspaper $400 to accuse the Moo Youngs of theft. The Moo Youngs then got the newspaper to publish a series of articles that claimed Maharaj was a money-launderer. Maharaj tried to buy the newspaper to stop the stories. When the owner wouldn’t sell, Maharaj started a rival, the Caribbean Times, and began hiring the staff of the Echo. Butler testified that Maharaj had offered him a better-paying job on the Times, but only on condition that Butler got him a meeting with the Moo Youngs. They wouldn’t have agreed to that, so Butler fooled them into thinking that ‘Eddie Dames’ – the name of an air-traffic controller visiting from the Bahamas – wanted to meet them in a suite at a downtown hotel. Butler said in court that he’d told the Moo Youngs that Dames wanted their help importing American restaurant equipment into the Bahamas. Butler said that when the Moo Youngs arrived in Room 1215, they found Maharaj and Butler instead. Maharaj demanded that Derrick Moo Young confess, in writing, to stealing his money. He provided pen and paper. When Moo Young refused and tried to leave, Maharaj shot him, then his son. No one in the hotel heard the shots, and Maharaj’s gun didn’t have a silencer, but Butler testified that Maharaj had used a pillow as a muffler. A few hours later, Butler went to the police, and took them to Maharaj, who was waiting for Butler at a restaurant near the airport. Another reporter on the Echo, Tino Geddes, testified that Maharaj had asked him to say that they had been together at the time of the murder, far away from the hotel, but Geddes had refused.

The lawyer for the defence rarely raised objections, and asked few questions during the cross-examinations. When the prosecution rested its case, the defence rested too, without calling any witnesses. Only after the jury had pronounced Maharaj guilty, and was deliberating whether to recommend life imprisonment or the death penalty, did Maharaj take the stand. ‘As true as Jesus Christ was crucified on Friday, I had nothing to do with the murders,’ he said. It was true that the Moo Youngs had stolen from him, but ‘money was not that important to me, never has been.’ He said that Butler had persuaded him to meet ‘Eddie Dames’ in Room 1215 that morning, telling him that Dames could distribute the Caribbean Times in the Bahamas. A few hours before the Moo Youngs were killed, Maharaj had waited there for Dames, reading the newspapers and drinking coffee, but when Dames didn’t show, Maharaj left. He said that many people had seen him miles away from the hotel at the time of the murder, though none of them had been called as a witness. He had never asked Geddes for an alibi. He didn’t know why Butler was lying. He had no idea who killed the Moo Youngs. The defence counsel told the judge that Maharaj had passed a lie-detector test; the prosecutor told the judge that Butler had passed one too. They cancelled each other out, the judge decided, and following the jury’s recommendation he sentenced Maharaj to death by electric current.

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