Lawyers rally to death row man's cause

The legal profession is stepping in where the Government has refused to tread by raising thousands of pounds to fund a court appeal for a British citizen on Miami's death row.

The former Conservative government had refused to contribute around £75,000 to the appeal of businessman Krishna Maharaj, but solicitors and barristers have independently offered to help fund an appeal set for June.

Maharaj's legal team, led by Geoffrey Robertson QC and Philip Sapsford QC, is acting pro bono and is set to make a fresh approach for funding to the Labour government.

Maharaj was arrested in October 1986 for the murder of a businessman and his son at a Miami hotel. Four days into the trial, a year later, the judge was arrested on bribery charges. Maharaj was convicted and sentenced to death after a trial with a new judge.

At his appeal, the appointment of a public defender to represent him was revoked for reasons that are still not clear and the appeal lapsed.

In 1996 Robertson and Sapsford travelled to the Miami Supreme Court and successfully secured a new appeal.

Rufus D'Cruz, one of a number of junior counsel working on the case, said the appeal would centre on the conduct of the original trial, that prosecution forensic evidence was unsafe, that Maharaj's lawyer had failed to challenge that evidence, and that fresh evidence suggested the two victims were involved in illegal drugs activity. The money was needed to fund forensic experts and trace witnesses in foreign jurisdictions.

D'Cruz said Maharaj's case had been treated in an “absolutely bizarre” and “unprecedented” way. The main prosecution witness had failed a lie detector test, he said, although Maharaj had passed it.