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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Crist, Cabinet vote no clemency for Krishna Maharaj

Krishna TALLAHASSEE -- Despite unprecedented pleas from British government officials, Gov. Charlie Crist and the Cabinet Thursday refused to free a 69-year-old British national who has served 22 years in a Florida prison, much of it on Death Row, for a double murder he has consistently denied.

The four officials who make up the state's clemency board instead followed the advice of the Miami-Dade prosecutor's office and state Parole Commission, who argued strenuously that the clemency petition be rejected.

Krishna Maharaj, a wealthy London businessman, has drawn a legion of supporters, from the British foreign secretary to members of Parliament to a bishop in Florida who baptized Maharaj into the Catholic Church in 2001. His  advocates also include Michael Olenick, the same pro bono lawyer who helped win freedom for the wrongly convicted Alan Crotzer, as well as a major public relations firm, Ron Sachs Comunications.

A two-part expose on the BBC in 2002 cast new doubts on the credibility of key prosecution witnesses and noted that alibi witnesses who claimed to have been with Maharaj in Fort Lauderdale at the time of the killings were not called to testify at trial.  Supporters have a web site, www.krishnamaharaj.org.

"The prosecution around the trial was horrid," said Paul Lomas, Maharaj's London lawyer, citing a drug-related "culture of corruption" in Miami in the mid-'80s.

Maharaj was convicted of the Oct. 16, 1986 killings of Derrick Moo Young and his son, Duane Moo Young, in Room 1215 of the DuPont Plaza Hotel in downtown Miami. His convictions were twice upheld on appeal, but his death sentence was commuted to life, and he is at the Martin Correctional Institution in Stuart.

The case was tried by former Miami-Dade State Attorney Janet Reno, who later served as U.S. Attorney general and ran for governor in 2002.

At a clemency hearing on Thursday, the prosecutor in the case and numerous relatives of the victims argued strenuously in opposition to granting mercy in the case, saying Maharaj had tortured one of his victims and previously tried to kill him.

"Put simply, this case was not even close," the former prosecutor said, describing the motive as a business dispute.. "This defendant got every benefit of our great system."

Relatives of the dead described Maharaj as a cold, remorseless "animal" who lured his victims to the hotel and tortured them before executing  them.

Maharaj's clemency plea came at a particularly awkward time for Crist. Next month, the governor will travel on a state-sponsored mission to London to strengthen trade ties between Florida and Great Britain.

-- STEVE BOUSQUET

[Last modified: Wednesday, September 15, 2010 11:21am]

    

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