Showing posts with label Injustice. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Injustice. Show all posts

Thursday, 28 August 2014

John Thompson: An 18-year Nightmare on Death Row


                                          The Victim 

Ray Liuzza Jr.
December 6, 1984. 00:15 am. New Orleans. Louisiana. Ray Liuzza, a 34-year-old businessman from a prominent New Orleans family, is returning to his Garden District apartment after a night out with friends. He's celebrating his recent promotion to Vice-President of one of the city's biggest hotels.

Ray, a confirmed bachelor, has a great affection for the Big Easy with it's slow, gentle lifestyle. As a typical New Orleans resident, he loves the history of the city, the fine cuisine and, of course, the music. 

Ray has just parked his BMW outside his Barone Street apartment when a figure emerges from the shadows and points a .357 Magnum at him. The young black man looks nervous, but doesn't say anything. Ray, although he's had a few drinks, is not intoxicated. Remaining calm, he offers the young man his wallet and watch. "Here, take them, man," he says, raising his hands. "Take them."

But the young man remains silent. Inexplicably, he fires the heavy gun five times. Bullets fly in all directions. Ray is hit in the chest and collapses to ground, crying out for help. The shooter then grabs the wallet and a ring from Ray's little finger and runs off into the darkness, leaving his victim lying in the gutter. Ray is bleeding heavily from his wounds, but he's still alive.


                  The New Orleans Police Department.

Detective Donald Curole is one of the first police officers on scene, but the gunman has made good his escape. It is less than five minutes since Ray Liuzza was shot and he is receiving emergency medical treatment on the sidewalk.  

The multiple wounds to his chest are severe, but he fights for his life. "Why did he have to shoot me?" he asks. "Why?" 

Ray never hears the answer. He goes into cardiac arrest and dies before reaching hospital. When Ray's father is given the news he collapses with a heart attack, which he survives.

Detective Curole and his colleagues, used to attending bloodied murder scenes, are shocked by this particular shooting. "The thing that distinguished this crime scene was the amount of violence that occurred. There was blood and bullet holes in the side of the house. The suspect just kept firing his gun, every bullet that he had."

Despite a massive amount of publicity and a high profile investigation New Orleans detectives struggle to get solid leads in what is effectively a random shooting.

Days turn into weeks and still there are no leads. More than a month after the murder, the Liuzza family, now convinced that their son's murderer will escape justice, put up a $15,000 reward for the arrest and conviction of the gunman.

In early January, 1985,  a local criminal named Richard Perkins contacts the Liuzza family claiming he had the murder weapon in his possession some weeks earlier. He tells them he sold it to an acquaintance.

Perkins names two men as potential suspects in the murder.


The Suspects

John Thompson 1984
John Thompson, one of the men named by Perkins, is a low level drug dealer and petty criminal who grew up in a New Orleans project. During his formative years he very rarely sees his career criminal father and is raised by his long suffering grandmother. 

On January 17, 1985, police arrive at his grandmother's house and arrest 22-year-old Thompson on suspicion of murder. During a search of the premises, they find a .357 Magnum, and the distinctive ring that was stolen from Ray Liuzza's finger.

John Thompson says he knew it was the police because "they knocked real loud before kicking in the door."

Under interrogation by homicide detectives, Thompson listens to a tape recording. On the tape, Richard Perkins accuses him of the murder of Ray Liuzza and insists he sold Thompson a.357 Magnum several months previously.

John Thompson denies the accusations and says that Richard Perkins is lying. Asked why Perkins would lie Thompson replies, "I don't know." 

The second man named is Kevin Freeman, an acquaintance of Thompson, who is arrested on the same day. He tells detectives that he and Thompson were driving home together in the early hours of December 6, 1984, when they ran out of gas. At that moment, Ray Liuzza drove past them, parked up and walked toward his apartment. Freeman states that John Thompson pulled a gun out of his pocket and said, "I'm going to hit that guy".

Kevin Freeman 1985
Freeman says he wants no part of it and runs away. As he disappears into the darkness, he hears several shots fired and assumes John Thompson has shot the guy and robbed him.

John Thompson denies being anywhere near the murder scene and says that Freeman is also lying. He doesn't know why. Thompson says that he did buy the gun and the ring, but he bought them from Kevin Freeman, and it was only days ago, not months. He had no idea that the gun had been used in the Ray Liuzza murder. He insists that he is innocent. 

The detectives are unimpressed with Thompson's denial. They believe that the damning statements of Kevin Freeman and Richard Perkins, along with the gun and Ray Liuzza's ring found in Thompson's possession, is the hard evidence needed to secure a conviction. 

Both men are charged with murder.

Freeman will plea bargain and then testify against John Thompson. Some 15-years later, a previously unseen police report will reveal a witness who saw a man fleeing the Ray Liuzza murder scene. The man identified by the witness closely resembles Kevin Freeman.

What nobody knows at this point is that the police, as well as recording Richard Perkins' statement, have also recorded a conversation he had with a representative of the Liuzza family. On tape, Perkins agrees to testify against John Thompson for $10,000, to be paid after the conviction. He is now willing to say anything to get Thompson convicted. The police have evidence that points to a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. 

They do nothing.

The tape and transcript of the conversation disappear into a police black hole and the jury in the murder trial are unaware that Richard Perkins was paid $10,000 to testify. Unfortunately for John Thompson, this is only the beginning of a conspiracy that will encompass the New Orleans Police Department and the New Orleans District Attorney's office. 


The New Orleans District Attorney's Office.

Harry Connick Snr.
In 1985, the New Orleans District Attorney is Harry Connick Snr, father of singer Harry Connick Jnr. When the Thompson case is referred to the DA's office for prosecution, Connick decides that he wants nothing less than the death penalty for John Thompson.

However, he quickly realizes that Thompson has no record of violence, which will rule out the death penalty when he's found guilty. Life imprisonment is the best outcome Connick can hope for - but that's not good enough.

And then Connick gets a stroke of luck. Almost a month previously, on December 28, 1984, Jay Lagarde, 19, his younger sister Mimi, 16, and their 12-year-old brother, were attacked in their car while attending a ball game. They now identify a mugshot of John Thompson, recently published in a local newspaper, as their attacker and contact police.

According to the victims, a black man tries to steal their car at gunpoint. During the struggle the attacker is injured and a blood sample is obtained. This is good news for Harry Connick. All three members of the family identify the attacker as John Thompson and also identify the gun as a .357 Magnum.

Jim Williams, New Orleans Prosecutor, 1985
John Thompson is charged with armed robbery. The attacker's blood sample is sent to Harry Connick's lead prosecutor, Jim Williams, who takes great pride in his numerous death penalty convictions.

In the picture on the left a model electric chair can be seen on Williams' desk, bottom right. One of the faces glued to the chair is that of John Thompson.

The blood sample and the witness statements identifying John Thompson as the armed robber is damning evidence. Jim Williams notes that the sample belonging to the attacker is marked as Blood Group B.

Unfortunately, Williams also notices that John Thompson's blood group, taken from hospital records, is marked as Blood Group O. He is not the armed robber. The three young victims have inadvertently identified the wrong man. If this blood sample is entered into evidence, the case against John Thompson will collapse.

Unbelievably, Jim Williams, who has been ordered to gain a conviction at all costs, now decides to withhold this vital piece of evidence from the court, thereby sealing John Thompson's fate. But this wasn't the first or the last time that the New Orleans DA's Office, under the leadership of Harry Connick Snr, would withhold evidence favorable to the defense. A 2008 study reported that during Harry Connick Snr's 30-year tenure as District Attorney, in one out of every four cases where the death penalty was imposed, evidence was withheld. Look up at the picture above. All four of the men pictured on that model electric chair were later exonerated.

John Thompson, 2009.
John Thompson's robbery trial lasts just two days. On April 12, 1985, he is convicted of armed robbery solely on the testimony of the three victims. He receives the maximum sentence of 49 years.

Harry Connick Snr then prosecutes Thompson for the brutal murder of Ray Liuzza, knowing that the previous conviction for armed robbery would allow the judge to consider imposing the death penalty.

Thompson's defense team are hamstrung. They know that if they put Thompson on the stand in his own defense, prosecutor Jim Williams will cross examine him about the armed robbery conviction, thus convincing the jury members they are looking at a violent man capable of murder.

John Thompson says, "I couldn't defend myself because the first question they would ask me was 'have you been convicted for anything' and I would have to answer 'yes'. My lawyer advised me not to take the stand."

Richard Perkins, 1985.
Both  Richard Perkins (now $10,000 richer) and Kevin Freeman testify that Thompson killed Ray Liuzza. It is two damning blows to the defense. As Thompson has no alibi, and has been unable to take the stand, even his own defense team fear the worst. They believe there will be only one outcome.

And they are right.

On May 8, 1985, the jury retires to consider their verdict. They return less than two hours later with the expected 'guilty' verdict. One of the victims of the armed robbery is called to make an impact statement. Mimi Lagarde, 16, relates a chilling story about how a black man held a gun to her brother's head and threatened to kill him. Some jury members are in tears.

John Thompson says, "And with that, they decide that I deserve to die. They believed I killed one man and almost killed three others. They sentence me to death for a crime I didn't do."

During sentencing, Jim Williams uses the impact statement and Thompson's armed robbery conviction to argue for the death penalty. The judge agrees and sends John Thompson to death row.

Kevin Freeman plea bargains and serves just 10 months in prison. Once released he continues his criminal activities and is shot dead during an armed robbery in 1995. In 1999, lawyers working for John Thompson, uncover a police report that leads them to an eye-witness. A woman who lived across the street from Ray Liuzza had seen a man running away from the murder scene. She tells the lawyers that he was a tall, black man, with close cropped hair. John Thompson is 5'-8" and had an afro style haircut in 1984. Kevin Freeman, known as 'Kojak' because of his cropped hairstyle, was '6-1".

Back in the New Orleans courtroom on May 8, 1985, John Thompson, now a convicted murderer facing the death penalty, is led to the holding cells. He knows that at least two people have perjured themselves on the witness stand. What he does not realize is that the conspiracy against him goes far deeper than he could ever have imagined.

He will spend the next 18 years on death row trying to figure it out.


Death Row - The Louisiana State Penitentiary, Angola.

John Thompson arrives at his cell on death row to find the clothes and personal effects of the previous inmate scattered around. The man had recently been executed. "That really blew me away," Thompson says, "I started throwing the stuff out into the hallway. They were laughing at me, saying, 'You'd better get used to that little brother.'"

During his years on death row, John Thompson is given seven separate execution dates. He prepares himself to die six times before receiving a stay of execution each time. His seventh and final execution date is set for May 20, 1999.

Over the years he has watched 12 other men leave death row and never come back. Thompson says, "Cruel and unusual punishment starts there - to watch a man that claimed to be innocent walk away, claiming he's innocent all the way, and then you know he don't return because he'd been executed mentally tortured me. I can't tell you how many days that beat me up."

Thompson spends his time in Angola in virtual solitary confinement. He spends 23 hours a day in the six by eight foot cell reading law books, listening to the radio and slowly simmering about the injustice he is suffering. Thompson recalls the day he is given the final date. "My appeals were exhausted. My lawyers flew in from Philadelphia to give me the news. They said it would take a miracle to avoid this execution. I told them it was fine - I was innocent, but it was time to give up."

And then he remembers something else that is happening on May 20. He has recently read a letter from his younger son John Jnr mentioning that he wants to go on a school trip. "I'd been thinking about how I could find a way to pay for his trip by selling my typewriter and radio, when it occurred to me that May 20 was the day before he graduated. I  begged the lawyers to try and get the execution delayed."

His lawyers tell him they'll try for a delay, but not to hold out much hope. Thompson later discovers something that makes him feel even worse. When his son is at school, the teacher reads out an article about the forthcoming execution, not realizing she is talking about John Jnr's father.

Thompson says, "So he learned that his father was going to be killed from his teacher, reading the newspaper aloud. I panicked. I needed to talk to him, reassure him. I was ready to die, if that's what God had in store for me - but my son wasn't ready."

John Thompson quickly realizes that he cannot reassure his son because the date is set - and that is it. He has less than thirty days left and the authorities are unmoved. He will be executed by lethal injection on the designated date. It is, finally, the end of the line.

However, what John Thompson does not know, is that for the first time in 18 years his luck is about to change. The miracle he has hoped for is about to happen.


Gordon Cooney and Michael Banks - Defense Lawyers.

Michael Banks, Defense Lawyer.
The two lawyers, Gordon Cooney and Michael Banks, both of whom had worked on a Pro Bono basis for John Thompson for more than eleven years, prepare themselves for his reaction to the bad news. They expect an outburst of raw emotion, resentment, bitterness, even anger at their failure to get him the justice he deserves.

Not for the first time they have misjudged their client. All Thompson says before hugging them both is, "I know you guys did what you could. I appreciate that."

The two lawyers leave the prison in tears. Despite years of effort, exploring every legal avenue open to them, they have failed. On the three hour drive back to New Orleans, Cooney checks his voice mail and listens to a message from one of their investigators.

The man has discovered a memo buried in police archives. It described how blood from the assailant had been found at the scene of the armed robbery. They quickly realize that if the blood sample was withheld by the prosecution it can only mean one thing. It didn't match John Thompson's blood group, which means Thompson is innocent of the armed robbery.

They confront Harry Connick Snr in his office in New Orleans. They give him an ultimatum; either postpone John Thompson's execution or they will place the evidence of malpractice before a court and ruin Connick's thirty-year career.

Connick agrees to the lawyers' proposal. John Thompson is given a stay of execution, his seventh, with just eleven days to spare. The evidence the two lawyers have collected is put before a judge. As the full story is revealed, Connick insists it is a rogue lawyer who is responsible. The evidence against the prosecutors is damning. Not only was the blood sample not offered to the defense, it was actually destroyed.

Evidence of witness payments, jury tampering and police and judicial corruption is brought out into the open. Everything John Thompson has told police is true. He had nothing to do with the armed robbery. It now appears that the armed robber was probably Richard Perkins. Thompson had bought the gun and ring from Kevin Freeman several days after the murder of Ray Liuzza and was nowhere near the murder scene. Using the available evidence and the new witness, Gordon Cooney and Michael Banks suggest that Ray Liuzza was probably murdered by Kevin Freeman.

John Thompson is officially cleared of all involvement in the armed robbery and a new trial for the murder of Ray Liuzza is ordered. On May 6, 2003, eighteen years to the day since Thompson's first trial, the jury in the re-trial retire to consider their verdict. They return just 35 minutes later with a 'not guilty' verdict.


The Aftermath.

John Thompson, now exonerated, leaves the court to be re-united with his son for the first time in 18 years. Within days of his release he decides to press charges against the New Orleans District Attorney's Office for wrongful and malicious prosecution. He wins the case and is awarded $14 million dollars. Six years later, after a judicial appeal the award is overturned by the supreme court.

John Thompson says, "I just want to know why the prosecutors' who hid evidence, sent me to prison for something I didn't do and nearly had me killed are not in jail themselves.There was no ethics charges against them, no criminal charges, nobody was fired and now, according to the supreme court, nobody can be sued."

In 2009, John Thompson sets up Resurrection After Exoneration, an education and outreach program that helps exonerated and formerly incarcerated inmates rebuild their lives.

Shortly after John Thompson is exonerated, Harry Connick Snr reportedly defends his team of prosecutors. He tells the Associated Press, "We follow the rules. We have an ongoing and continuing obligation to turn over exculpatory evidence and we do."

Really? I must have missed something.



John and Laverne Thompson - September 2009

Against all odds.




Pictures and information courtesy of:

CNN

The Innocence Project

The New York Times

Resurrection After Exoneration

US Attorney's Office - New Orleans

Louisiana Department of Correction

Louisiana State Penitentiary - Angola

The painting of John Thompson is used courtesy of
Dan Bolick.






Friday, 8 August 2014

Blake Layman: 16-year-old sentenced to 55 years for burglary


Blake Layman
October 3, 2012. 2:32 pm. Elkhart County. Indiana. The five youths casually walking along Frances Avenue are trying to look as inconspicuous as possible, which isn't an easy thing to do in this quiet, tree-lined, residential community.

The young men are looking for houses to burglarize, to make some quick money, and Frances Avenue is an ideal location. Most of the occupants are either at work or out shopping, leaving several unoccupied premises as likely targets.

Halfway along Frances Avenue the boys reach number 1919. Blake Layman knocks loudly on the front door several times and rings the bell. They agree that if anybody comes to the door, they will take off, but nobody answers and there is no barking dog, which probably means nobody is at home. They assume the property is vacant and decide this is the house they will enter.

Blake Layman, 16, kicks in a rear door to gain entrance to the property. Levi Sparks, 17, waits outside as a lookout. Three other members of the gang, Anthony Sharp, 18, Jose Quiroz, 16, and Denzele Johnson, 20, follow Layman into the house. They split up and begin searching through cupboards and drawers in the downstairs rooms for anything of value.

1919, Frances Avenue, Elkhart, Indiana
Unfortunately, what these young men do not know is that the homeowner, Rodney Scott, 54, taking a nap upstairs, has been woken by the sound of the break-in and is now slowly walking down the stairs, one tentative step at a time.

The boys are also unaware that Mister Scott has armed himself with a 9mm handgun.

The first shot rings out, hitting Denzele Johnson in the chest. He drops to the floor, bleeding heavily from his wound.  A second and third shot echo around the room. A fourth shot hits Blake Layman in the left thigh while he's trying to drag the bloodied body of Denzele Johnson into a closet to escape the hail of gunshots that is descending upon them.

Anthony Sharp, separated from the other three in a rear room, escapes through a back window. Jose Quiroz scrambles to join Layman and Johnson inside the closet. At his trial, Blake Layman says, "I ran through the kitchen to the (first floor) bedroom and the first thing I heard was gunshots. I was shot entering the closet. I felt something warm and I came up with a handful of blood. That's when I realized I'd been shot in the leg."

Denzele Johnson
Denzele Johnson is now slumped between Layman and Quiroz in the closet and he is still bleeding heavily. Neither of the two boys know if their friend is dead or alive, but it doesn't take long for them to realize the gravity of the situation.

"Denzele died between me and Jose," Layman says later. "We were both right there next to him. I remember screaming, "I'm sorry," to him just over and over again. It was a bad situation. I was sorry for it all."

Even while they are sheltering inside the closet two more shots are fired, both shots miss the boys and pass through the closet door and into the rear wall. Rodney Scott, the homeowner, has already called 911 and the police are only minutes away, in fact, the sound of sirens can be heard in the distance - so why is Mister Scott still firing blindly through a closet door?

Because he's terrified.

It is very easy to criticize the homeowner. But what does it feel like to wake up from a nap and realize a gang of burglars are ransacking your property?

At the trial, Rodney Scott, who had lived alone in the Frances Avenue property for more than ten years, describes what happened. "I was sitting on the side of the bed. There was this boom and the whole house just shook. I thought, what in the world is that, what caused that?"

A second or two later it happens again, and Mister Scott decides to head downstairs to find out what it is. He recalls that his neighbor's house had been broken into recently. "I'm the type of person that if I hear a noise in my house I have to go find out what it is."

He gets his gun, loads it and then opens his bedroom door to see if anyone is out there. There isn't, so he slowly walks down the first three steps and then runs down the rest. He says he hopes whoever is in the house will hear him and run away.

He gets to the bottom of the stairs and walks into the living room, scanning the area for intruders. He sees one intruder in the kitchen and two more standing by the first floor bedroom door. "It was fear because when you see that many people in your house, fear comes over you. You don't know if you're going to be hurt or you're going to be killed."

Rodney Scott then decides to fire his gun at the intruders because he doesn't know if they are armed or whether they are going to attack him. He begins firing randomly in all directions, hoping to corner them in the room until he can call the police. He says later that he could not remember where he aimed his gun. It was, apparently, the first time he had ever fired it. As he calls 911 on his cell phone, the closet door swings open to reveal the boys trapped in the closet. He tells them not to move. Still using his phone, he tells the police dispatcher to also send an ambulance as somebody has been shot.

Within minutes the emergency services arrive at the scene. Mister Scott is initially treated as a suspect in a homicide. As the story unfolds, no charges are brought against him. Elkhart County prosecutor, Curtis Hill, decides that the homeowner, despite firing a full clip at the intruders, acted reasonably and in self defense. He then files a burglary charge and a felony murder charge against each of the four boys. The prosecutor explains his actions by saying, "When somebody commits a felony, and someone dies as a result, Indiana law is very clear."

Elkhart County courthouse.
Except it isn't.

The felony murder statute in Indiana states, "A person who kills another human being while committing or attempting to commit arson, burglary, child molesting, consumer product tampering, criminal deviant conduct, kidnapping, rape, robbery, human trafficking, sexual trafficking of a minor or carjacking ... commits murder, a felony."

The four youths did not kill another human being while they were committing burglary. There was no premeditation, no intent to commit murder. In fact, it was the homeowner who had the gun and he was firing blindingly in all directions because he feared for his life. Rodney Scott killed Danzele Johnson, but he wasn't committing a felony at the time, which renders the felony murder statute worthless in this particular case.

Blake Layman with his mother and Brother.
During the trial, the defense ask Mister Scott if the intruders had any weapons. "I didn't see any weapons, no," he answers, truthfully.

The defense. "When they were in the closet you felt relieved?"

Mister Scott. "Yeah. I was no more threat to them, and they were no threat to me."

But Mister Scott fired two more shots even when, in his own words, "they were no threat to me."

Blake Layman was shot as he tried to shelter in the closet. Not only was he no threat to Mister Scott he was actually trying to get away. Every man has the right to defend his property, but at what point does defense turn into malicious offense.

Jose Quiroz, the boy sheltering inside the closet with Layman and Johnson, plea bargains and pleads guilty to felony murder. He receives 45-years in prison and ten-years probation. Not much of a bargain, I would suggest.

He is called by the prosecution to testify against his friends. Despite being asked a number of questions several times, he remains uncooperative. The only thing he says is that he was under the influence of drugs during the break-in and that it was him and not Blake Layman who kicked the door in. "I had no intention of hurting nobody."

Blake Layman, Levi Sparks and Anthony Sharp plead not guilty. The judge tells the jury that if they don't find the teens guilty of felony murder they do have the option of finding them guilty of burglary.

L-R. Sparks, Layman and Sharp.
On August 22, 2013, after a week long trial, the jury are out for less than six hours. They return with a guilty verdict.

Levi Sparks, is sentenced to 50-years, a mitigated sentence because he was not inside the house during the burglary. (How is he guilty of murder if he wasn't even there?) He is also fined $10,000, which is suspended.

Anthony Sharp receives a 55-year sentence and a suspended $10,000 fine. He is recommended for drug and alcohol treatment.

Blake Layman receives a 55-year sentence and a suspended $10,000 fine with a mandated drug treatment. With good behavior, he will serve 27-years with a release date in 2040. He will be 44-years-old when he's released.

Interestingly, one of the jurors later says he was 'uncomfortable' with the verdict, but felt pressured to find the boys guilty.

This is not the first time that felony murder charges have been brought against teenagers in the United States following a burglary. On September 21, 2010, four boys aged between 15 and 17 break into a home in Davenport, Florida. The homeowner shoots the 15-year-old in the stomach, killing him instantly. Two of the boys plea bargain and receive a sentence that keeps them in detention until their 21st birthdays, effectively a sentence of between 4 and 7 years.

The third boy, aged 16, who used a hammer to break into the house, is charged with first degree felony murder and faces a sentence of 50 years in the Florida Department of Corrections. Florida, a state known for its tough justice system and harsh sentencing, has no options for parole. However, in this particular case, the prosecutor and the judge realize it is a unique situation. The 16-year-old pleads guilty to second degree* felony murder and burglary and receives a 6-year sentence, which seems to make more sense than Elkhart County's sentencing policy.

Tony Martin 1999
What about other countries? In the United Kingdom the charge of felony murder does not exist, having been abolished by 'The Homicide Act (1957). You are allowed to use reasonable force to protect your home, up to a point.

On the night of August 20, 1999, two burglars break into a house in Norfolk, England. The homeowner, 55-year-old, Tony Martin, is woken by the noise of the break-in. As he stands at the top of the stairs he sees two shadowy figures in the hallway moving towards him. He fires down the stairs with his shotgun, killing one of the intruder instantly. The second burglar flees the house and is later arrested by police. He is convicted of burglary and receives a 3-year sentence.

Tony Martin is charged with murder. The jury at the trial are told that they have the option of returning a verdict of manslaughter rather than murder, if they think that Martin "did not intend to kill or cause serious bodily harm". However, the jurors find Martin guilty of murder by a 10 to 2 majority. He is sentenced to life imprisonment.

On appeal, the charge is dropped to manslaughter and the sentence reduced to 3-years.

Bearing in mind other states and other countries leniency, why does the Elkhart County prosecutor, Curtis Hill, want to see 17-year-old Blake Layman and his friends serve 55-year sentences, effectively ruining their lives?

The truth is that Blake Layman is no angel. He was expelled from one school for fighting and was involved with several types of drugs.

It is also fair to say that the Frances Avenue burglary probably wasn't the first time he'd broken into somebody's property. He doesn't have a police record, but that's only because he's never been caught.

He appeared on British televison recently in an ITV program called "Kids In Prison", a documentary about the Wabash Correctional facility. His attempt to garner sympathy from the viewers didn't work. Despite being baby-faced and quietly spoken, there is a brooding anger and a hint of violent intent lingering just below the surface. He is not what he appears to be.

Elkhart County Prosecutor, Curtis Hill.
However, once again, the Indiana Justice Department and Mister Curtis Hill in particular, have fumbled the ball.

Instead of making an example of Blake Layman and his friends by handing them 20-year sentences for burglary (all out in ten-years, aged 27 - lesson learned?) Curtis Hill hands down ludicrous 55-year sentences for felony murder, thereby turning common criminals into martyrs.

Blake Layman and his friends may be many undesirable things, but they are patently not murderers. "I committed a crime," says Layman, from his cell in the Wabash Correctional facility. "I committed a burglary, serious things did happen. A man, the homeowner, has to live through life with what he did. And Danzele's gone. His mom lost a son. I understand I committed a crime and it was wrong. Twenty years is the max for burglary and I'd be fine if they gave it to me."

And what about Rodney Scott, who was at home in Frances Avenue, just minding his own business? He has never spoken publicly about the incident and has declined all requests for interviews. He testified that he has suffered terrible nightmares since he was caught up in a situation not of his making.

And he never spent another night in the house he had lived in for the previous 18 years.


  

Blake Layman, Levi sparks, Anthony Sharp

Release date - August 22, 2040
  


*Second degree felony murder. The state of Florida differentiates the degree of culpability in felony murder based on who does the actual killing. When the person who does the killing is an accomplice, it is first degree felony murder with a 50-year sentence. When the person who does the killing is a victim or a bystander then those committing the crime are charged with second degree felony murder, which carries a much reduced sentence.

Are you WATCHING Elkhart County?




Pictures and information courtesy of:

ITV television (UK) "kids in Prison"

Nationalpost.com

ABC News

Wabash Correctional Facility

Indiana Criminal Justice Institute

freeelkhart4.com





Saturday, 31 May 2014

Emmett Till: Murdered in Mississippi


Warning: This article contains graphic pictures and racial epithets.


Emmett Till 1954
August 24, 1955. Money, Mississippi. It's late afternoon when Emmett Till, a 14-year-old Chicago schoolboy, enters Bryant's Grocery and Meat Market to buy candy. Emmett is visiting relatives in the area and is unaware of the racial tension in the southern states.

What happens next leads to torture, murder and an unparalleled scrutiny of racism across the Mississippi delta. The incident, in a small grocery store in a rural backwater, generates newspaper headlines across the country, galvanizes public opinion and ignites the fledgling civil rights movement.

And it begins with a young black boy who just wants to buy some gum.

Behind the counter in Bryant's Store on this particular day is Carolyn, 21, wife of store owner, Roy Bryant. Roy, away for a couple of days in Texas, often leaves his capable young wife to run the business. The drama begins, according to Carolyn, at around 4.00 pm, when Emmett Till enters the store but doesn't ask for anything, he just grabs her hand and says, "How about a date?"

The young woman, shocked by the approach, frees herself from the boy's grasp and walks away. Emmett follows her to the cash register and grabs her around the waist. The 14-year-old schoolboy then says, "What's the matter baby, can't you take it. You needn't be afraid of me. I've been with white women before."

Emmett Till's cousin, Simeon Wright, who enters the store less than a minute after Emmett, says: "There was no inappropriate behavior and no lecherous conversation. Emmett paid for his items and we left the store together."

Carolyn Bryant 1955
In 2006, the FBI, re-investigating the case, find evidence that another customer in the store at the time of the alleged confrontation, confirms Simeon Wright's version of events. Emmett Till simply enters the store, purchases an item and then leaves with his cousin.

However, whatever supposedly occurs inside the store now spills out on to the street when Carolyn runs outside to retrieve a pistol from her car. Why she needs a weapon to deal with a 14-year-old schoolboy is never explained.

She then alleges that Emmett Till wolf-whistles in her direction. It is, of course, quite possible that the schoolboy did whistle at her in a disrespectful manner. He was, apparently, a feisty young man, who did not lack confidence. However, according to the 2006 FBI investigation, it is more likely he was whistling towards a group of his friends playing on the opposite side of the road.

Whoever it was aimed at, that single whistle sets off a chain of events that defies belief.

Four days later, at 2:00 am on the morning of August 28, 1955, three men, two white, one black, arrive at Mose Wright's house, where Emmett Till is staying. Under cover of darkness, the schoolboy is taken away at gunpoint.

Mose Wright contacts the Leflore County Sheriff about Emmett's early morning abduction. That afternoon, both Roy Bryant and his half brother, John Milam, are arrested and jailed on charges of kidnapping.

On August 31, Emmett Till's bloated and battered body is recovered from the Tallahatchie River. His head is badly damaged, parts of it beaten to a bloody pulp. He has a gunshot wound above his right ear and his right eye has been gouged out.

His naked body shows evidence of a beating to the back and hips with a blunt instrument. A heavy fan blade, tied by barbed wire to his neck, has weighed the body down to keep it submerged. There is no doubt that Emmett Till has been tortured, pistol-whipped and then shot in the head.

He is only identified by the silver ring he is wearing. The Delta-Democrat Times, a local Mississippi newspaper, reports that the body may not be Till's and suggests that the boy may have been hidden by relatives or even returned to Chicago for his safety.

As the gravity of the crime slowly unfolds, the tone of the local newspapers begins to change from mitigation to condemnation. Several newspapers call for the authorities to conduct "a vigorous conviction."

The Vicksburg Evening Post prints several letters to the editor expressing shame at the people who have caused Till's death. One reads, "Now is the time for every citizen who loves the state of Mississippi to stand up and be counted before hoodlum white trash brings us to destruction."

Mamie Till Bradley addressing the media
Meanwhile, the authorities prepare Emmett Till's body for burial in Mississippi. But Mamie Till Bradley, Emmett's mother, is never going to agree to that. She halts the burial and calls several local and state authorities in Illinois and Mississippi to make sure her son is returned to Chicago.

She insists on an open casket funeral so the true extent of the horrifying crime can be seen by everybody.

Photographs of Emmett Till's mutilated body are printed in Chicago newspapers making international news and directing attention to the rights of black people in the southern states. Thousands of people line the Chicago street outside the mortuary to view Emmett's body and thousands more attend his funeral. He is buried on September 6, 1955, at Burr oak Cemetery, Alsip, Illinois.

Roy Bryant (L) -  John Milam (R)
On September 7, 1955, Roy Bryant and John Milam, are indicted for the kidnap and murder of Emmett Till. A conviction on either charge could result in the death penalty for both men.

Prosecuting attorney, Hamilton Caldwell, is not confident of gaining a conviction, particularly as there will be an all white jury, who will be looking for any excuse to acquit the defendants.

Caldwell's view is underscored when Tallahatchie County Sheriff, Clarence Strider, who initially identified Emmett Till's body and stated that the case against Bryant and Milam was "pretty good", now announces his doubts that the body pulled from the river is even Till's. He now thinks Emmett Till is probably still alive, and that a stolen cadaver was planted in the river by black radicals.

The whitewash begins.

The Jury, Sumner court room, Sept. 1955
The trial opens on September 19, 1955. in the town of Sumner, Mississippi. More than seventy reporters and photographers crowd into the small court room. Mose Wright and Mamie Till Bradley both testify for the prosecution.

They are both convincing witnesses.

Several more witnesses testify to hearing whipping and hollering from inside a barn on the morning it is believed that Emmett Till was murdered.

The defense strategy is to question whether the body pulled from the river is even that of Emmett Till, who they suggest is probably still alive. Defense counsel admits that Bryant and Milam took Emmett from Mose Wright's house (they couldn't argue against that, given the strength of the evidence) but insist they released him unarmed.

Sheriff Strider 1955
Sheriff Clarence Strider testifies that he thought the body pulled out of the river had been there "from ten to fifteen days", far too long for it to have been Emmett Till's body. Despite the overwhelming evidence against Bryant and Milam, it is this single sentence, as predicted by State Prosecutor, Hamilton Caldwell, that gives the jury the opportunity to acquit the two defendants.

The twelve good men and true are out for just 67 minutes; unsurprisingly, they return a verdict of "Not Guilty." On November 9, 1955, a Leflore grand jury refuses to indict Bryant and Milam on kidnapping charges, and the two men are released from custody.

And then the smear campaign starts. The Jackson Daily News reports facts about Emmett Till's father that has been suppressed by the U.S. Military. While serving in Italy, Louis Till raped two women and killed a third. He was court-martialed and hanged near Pisa in July 1945. Mamie Till and the family know nothing about this, having been told by the army that Louis had been killed for "wilful misconduct."

The story remains on the Mississippi newspapers front pages for several weeks. It is a blatant attempt to blacken Emmett Till's character by suggesting he was prone to a genetic instinct to violence. It does not change the fact that a young boy was brutally murdered and justice was not done.

In later interviews, jurors acknowledge that they knew Bryant and Milam were guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, but did not believe that life imprisonment or the death penalty a fit punishment for whites who killed a black man.

Hundreds of thousands of people, mainly in northern cities, attend rallies protesting the verdict. Southern newspapers, particularly those in Mississippi, state that the court system has done its job. The difference of opinion between the northern and southern states is palpable.

If you have never heard Emmett Till's story before reading this article, what do you think happened to Roy Bryant and John Milam? Did they confirm the court's verdict by continuing to protest their innocence? Did they perhaps offer a shred of sympathy to the bereaved mother of Emmett Till, who had lost her son in such a traumatic fashion?

No, they didn't.

John W. Millam 1955
Just three months after being acquitted of kidnapping and brutally murdering a 14-year-old schoolboy, they gave an interview to Look Magazine and were paid the princely sum of $4000 each.

Protected by the rules of "Double Jeopardy" (they cannot be tried twice for the same crime) the two men admit to killing Emmett Till and then go on to describe exactly how they did it, proving beyond any reasonable doubt that the courts had not done their job.

Ex-soldier, John Milam, states that his intention is to "...just whip him, and scare some sense into him." And Big John Milam knows exactly where to take the boy.

Over at Rosedale, the Big River bends around under a bluff. The idea was to "...stand him up their on the bluff, whip him with the colt .45, shine a light on him and make him think we were going to push him in the river. Because that's what happens to smart niggers. Me and my folks fought for this country, and we got some rights."

But the Chicago schoolboy stood up to them. He didn't think they had the guts to kill him. And the two men didn't like that. Milam says, "We were never able to scare him." So they pistol-whipped him with their .45's instead, both men taking it turn to smash the guns across the boy's head. Pistol-whipping prisoners is a court martial offense in the army, but that didn't seem to bother these two upstanding southern gentlemen.

Roy Bryant 1955
And still Emmett didn't cry out. According to Milam and Bryant, all the boy said was, "You bastards. I'm not afraid of you."

Roy Bryant continues the story: "Well, what else could we do? He was hopeless. I'm no bully; I never hurt a nigger in my life. I like niggers - in their place - I know how to work 'em. As long as I live and can do anything about it, niggers are going to stay in their place. And then I just made up my mind. Chicago boy, I said, I'm going to make an example of you."

And they surely did that. First, they make him carry a 74 pound ginning fan; he staggers under the weight of it. Then they order him to strip naked before attaching the fan to his neck with a piece of barbed wire.

Having concluded their brutal assault, they shoot Till above his right ear and roll him into twenty feet of water. Seventy-two hours later and eight miles down river, a group of boys out fishing see two bloated feet sticking up out of the water. Sheriff Clarence Strider identifies the body as Emmett Till. Realizing the implications, he tries to get the body buried that same day, ordering Till's Mississippi relatives to "...get the body into the ground by nightfall."

Emmett Till's mother, Mamie, makes sure that does not happen.  

In 1957, an unsuccessful attempt is made to assassinate Sheriff Strider, whose perjured testimony and overt racist behavior helps pervert the course of justice. He later tries to justify his actions, "The last thing I wanted to do was defend those peckerwoods. But I just had no choice about it."

On December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, 42-year-old Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat to a white passenger. She is quoted as saying, "I thought of Emmett Till and I just couldn't go back."

John William Milam dies of cancer in 1980, at the age of 61. His passing goes unnoticed.

Roy Bryant's Store 1955
In 1992, Roy Bryant is interviewed about his involvement in the murder. Unaware that Emmett's mother, Mamie, is listening in another room he blithely states that Emmett Till ruined his life. He expresses no remorse and then says, "Emmett Till is dead. I don't know why he can't just stay dead."

In 1994, at the age of 63, Roy Bryant dies of cancer. Nobody mourns his passing.

In 2006, the FBI reopens the case. They exhume Emmett Till's remains and confirm his identity beyond any doubt. Agents also believe that a third person may have been involved in the murder of the Chicago schoolboy. The investigation is ongoing.

In 2007, Tallahatchie County issue a formal apology to Emmett Till's family. It reads: "We the citizens of Tallahatchie County recognize that the Emmett Till case was a terrible miscarriage of justice. We state candidly and with deep regret the failure to pursue justice. We wish to say to the family of Emmett Till that we are profoundly sorry for what was done in this community to your loved one."

Mamie remarries and lives happily with Gene Mobley until his death in 1999. 
She dies of heart failure, aged 81, in 2003.

She does not live long enough to hear the apology.


Emmett Till (1941-1955)

Murdered in Mississippi.

R.I.P.



Pictures and information courtesy of:

www.fbi.gov

www.pbs.org (American Experience)

The Emmett Till Murder Trial: A Chronology.
by
Douglas O. Linder

Life Magazine

Look Magazine (1955 ed.)

BBC News

Tallahatchie County Archives




Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Krishna Maharaj and The Cocaine Cowboys*


Dupont Plaza Hotel, Miami 19  
October 16, 1986. 12:25 pm. Emergency services respond to a 911 call and arrive at the Dupont Plaza Hotel in downtown Miami.

Hotel security staff inform police officers that during a routine sweep of the hotel, they found two bloodied bodies in a room on the top floor. Officers race up to the twelfth floor and enter room 1215 to find a horrific murder scene.

Father and son Derrick and Duane Moo Young appear to be the victims of an execution. Derrick has been shot in the head and body several times and Duane, 23, has been shot once in the head and has a single gunshot wounds to his left leg, indicating that he may also have been tortured. Miami Police describe the father and son as 'impoverished businessmen'.

Derrick and Duane Moo Young

The Case for the Prosecution


Within hours of the murders, a man named Neville Butler leads police to British national Krishna Maharaj, a millionaire fruit importer who regularly travels from Britain to spend winters in Miami.

Maharaj is arrested and taken into custody. He states that he knows nothing about the murders and claims to have been thirty miles away in Fort Lauderdale.

However, in the weeks that follow, a detailed police investigation reveals that not only does Krishna Maharaj know the two businessmen, he also has a business arrangement with them. Police are told that Derrick Moo Young has embezzled more than $160,000 from Maharaj.

Police find Krishna Maharaj's left hand fingerprints in room 1215 (indicating that the perpetrator was wearing a single glove on his right hand) and then Neville Butler tells police he was actually in the room when the murders happened and states that the British businessman pulled the trigger. Butler believes he was lucky to get away with his own life and tells police that Maharaj is the only person he knows who has a motive to kill Derrick and Duane Moo Young.

Neville Butler's statement is damning. Unfortunately, the police do not recover the murder weapon.

Krishna Maharaj 1987
But they do have a motive, fingerprints in the hotel room and an eyewitness; with the weight of evidence in their possession, police investigators believe they have an open and shut case and charge Krishna Maharaj with two counts of first degree murder.

Despite the overwhelming evidence against him, Maharaj still maintains his innocence. He produces six witnesses who claim he was thirty miles away when the murders occurred. One of the witnesses insists she has evidence to prove Krishna Maharaj was with her and several other people at the exact time of the murders. Police are unimpressed with this attempt at an alibi and now disbelieve everything Maharaj says. They do not interview any of the defence witnesses who have come forward.

The 48-year-old businessman goes on trial on October 5, 1987. The jury is told about scientific evidence regarding fingerprints, ballistics, business records and statements the defendant made to police. Then the prosecution lawyer makes his point; "All the evidence points to the defendant and nobody else as the killer of Derrick Moo Young and Duane Moo Young. These two men were executed by the defendant who was a business partner in KDM, a corporation that dealt with import and export."

Having been described as "impoverished businessmen" by Miami police, the Moo Young's business accounts are revealed to the jury. The accounts show total earnings of less than $25,000 per year.

Despite his claims of innocence, Krishna Maharaj faces a mountain of damning evidence. Witness after witness testifies against him, including several Miami police officers. He is even starting to sound paranoid when he tells his defence lawyer that he thinks the judge is deliberately confusing the evidence to sway the jury. His protestations are waved away.

And then a very strange thing happens. On October 8, 1987, three days into the trial, 48-year-old presiding Judge Howard Gross is arrested at his home. He is charged with taking a $20,000 bribe from undercover officers investigating the Medellin drugs cartel.

With Judge Gross under arrest, it is not clear why Krishna Maharaj's defence counsel does not request a re-trial.

Something is beginning to smell and it is an odour that will eventually turn into an overwhelming stench. Few people in the courtroom realise the implications at the time and a new judge is quickly appointed. The trial continues.

And then another strange thing happens. Without examining any of the prosecution witnesses, or putting Krishna Maharaj on the stand, defence counsel, Eric Hendon, shocks the court by resting his case. It is an odd, almost unprecedented, decision.

And nobody asks why the defence has chosen this course of action.

October 19, 1987. With no evidence to counter the prosecution case, the jury is out for just three hours. They return a guilty on all counts verdict and vote 7 to 5 for the death penalty. Krishna Maharaj is sentenced to death. As the sentence is read out Maharaj faints. On November 20, 1987, he enters death row at the State Prison in Starke, Florida, where he will stay for the next ten years.

After several unsuccessful appeals, Krishna Maharaj's death sentence is overturned in September 1997, when it is confirmed that the replacement trial judge had asked the prosecution to prepare an order sentencing Maharaj to death before the sentencing hearing had even begun. 57-year-old Maharaj is returned to the general prison population to serve a full life sentence. After exhausting the appeals procedures that should have been the end of it.

But it wasn't. Because some things just refuse to go away.

Maharaj with his wife Marita 2012
In 2014, new evidence comes to light. 75-year-old Krishna Maharaj, now confined to a wheelchair and suffering from diabetes and a heart problem, has served 26 years of his sentence, and he still maintains his innocence.

With justification, as it now turns out.


The Case for the Defence


Krishna Maharaj's fingerprints found in room 1215 was damning evidence, but it now appears that parts of Maharaj's statement were held back from the jury.

The prosecutor advised the jury at the original trial that "the defendant told police that he had never been inside the Dupont Plaza Hotel on October 16, and what's more, he had never been on the twelfth floor. Nobody said that he had ever been on the twelfth floor."

The jury understood the implications of that final sentence straight away. How did he know there'd been a murder on the twelfth floor if he hadn't been there? And how had his fingerprints appeared in the room? Maharaj says, "I told police from the beginning that I had been in the room earlier that day for a meeting arranged by Neville Butler."

The prosecution's claim that Maharaj said he had never been to the Dupont Plaza is shown to be false when Officer Romero of the Miami police later states that, "he (Maharaj) said he had been there prior to the homicides, that's correct."

The jury are also told that Maharaj denied knowing the Moo Youngs' and had never had a business relationship with them. This is a prosecution ploy to portray Krishna Maharaj as a devious liar. In fact, a portion of a statement taken by Detective Buhrmaster is never revealed to the jury. It clearly shows that Maharaj not only admitted knowing the father and son, but also detailed his business involvement with both men.

The prosecution also fail to mention to the jury that both Butler and Maharaj have taken polygraph (lie detector) tests. This information is withheld for obvious reasons. Krishna Maharaj passed the test and Neville Butler failed.

Neville Butler, 1987
Krishna Maharaj says that Neville Butler set up a morning meeting between himself (Maharaj) and a man called Eddie Dames, in whose name the hotel room was booked. Several years later, Dames confirmed this statement was true.

Maharaj wanted to discuss with Dames, a Bahamas air traffic controller, a business proposition regarding the distribution of a newspaper in the Caribbean.

After arriving at 8:00 am and waiting more than an hour and a half for Dames to turn up, Maharaj becomes impatient and leaves around 9:35 am. He drives to Fort Lauderdale, some thirty miles away from the murder scene where several witnesses report seeing him at 10:25 am - two hours before the Moo Youngs' are murdered in the Dupont Plaza. Maharaj is also seen, by several witnesses, dining at a Fort Lauderdale restaurant at 12:05 pm. This is five minutes after the murder took place.

So, according to the evidence that has since emerged, there was no meeting arranged with the Moo Youngs' and Maharaj had not arrived in the hotel room to collect $160,000 that was allegedly embezzled from him. In fact, Derrick Moo Young did owe money to Maharaj, but the amount owed was actually $443,000, which bank records show he paid to Krishna Maharaj in two cheques, one for £200,000 and one for $243,000. These cheques were banked by Maharaj some time before the murders occurred.

A police file contains copies of the Moo Youngs' passports. In the nine months leading up to their murders they had taken at least thirteen international flights, staying in expensive hotels wherever they went. Further documents show that the Moo Youngs' were negotiating, on behalf of a third party, to buy a bank in Panama for $600 million.

Why was all this information held back from the jury?

Because it didn't fit the prosecution case and effectively destroyed Maharaj's motive for murder.

With the fingerprints and the motive not quite as damning as would first appear, what about the murder weapon? A ballistics expert reveals that a 9 mm pistol is used to murder the two men in room 1215. Although he can't determine the make of gun (it could be any one of half a dozen different 9 mm pistols) the expert believes it to be a Smith and Wesson.

Which is convenient for the prosecution, as they can prove that Krishna Maharaj once owned a Smith and Wesson 9 mm pistol. Unfortunately, they don't have the gun and are therefore unable to match the bullets that killed the Moo Youngs' with any gun that may have been owned by Maharaj. It is inconclusive and uninstantiated evidence, but it plants yet another seed in the minds of the jury.

A question that must have bothered the jury was why hotel staff heard no gunshots. Neville Butler testified that Maharaj shot the gun through a pillow to deaden the noise. This might work in crime movies, it doesn't in real life. A pillow would not muffle the sound of a 9 mm pistol being fired at least eight times. No pillows with gunshot marks were found at the murder scene.

The jury never heard the name Adam Hosein. Police records reveal that this man left a message for room 1215 on the day of the murders. Miami police never questioned him. Fifteen years later, an associate of this man, one George Abchal, told investigators that Hosein kept a gun and a silencer in the drawer of his desk. He said, "On the day of the murders Hosein took the gun, a 9 mm Smith and Wesson with silencer, and went out to the Du Pont Plaza hotel. When he returned he told me not to mention to anyone that he had gone out or where he had been."

George Abchal didn't have to worry. Nobody asked. The day after the murders, Adam Hosein returned to Trinidad.

And what about the victims? According to Miami police, Derrick and Duane Moo Young had barely a cent to rub together. However, the picture painted of the father and son at Krishna Maharaj's trial was not quite accurate.

Pablo Escobar
Documented evidence examined by Ernst & Young accountants has now emerged which proves that the Moo Youngs' company, Cargil International SA (Bahamas), was used to launder money for the Columbian drug cartels. In September 1986, the company owned by the "impoverished businessmen" conducts transactions in the United States, Barbados, Trinidad, Costa Rica, Panama, Venezuela, and Paraguay.

Approximately $100 million dollars is involved in buying gemstones, bearer bonds and foreign currency. And then two letters of credit appear in the Moo Youngs' bank account, both issued by "International Bank of the South Pacific" and both are for $100 million. In one, the original recipients name is crudely blanked out and filled in with the name Cargill International SA. The letters are dated September 17, 1986, one month before the murders, and both bear the identifying code (ODA-170986-SL5-10). In fact, they are the same document and they are being used to instigate an unsophisticated forgery by Derrick and Duane Moo Young. This attempt to rip off the Medellin drug cartel is the first fateful step in a lengthy chain of events that will lead to their deaths.

It is also around this time that the Moo Youngs' take out personal life insurance policies amounting to more than $1.5 million.

Back at the Dupont Plaza hotel, police find blood on the floor outside the door leading into room 1214, the room opposite the murder scene. On the day of the murder a man who has occupied room 1214 checks out of the hotel after a stay of three months. Police barely speak to him. They ask him his name - Jaime Vallejos Mejias - determine some personal facts and then let him go.

Drug cartel busted
What police fail to establish is that Jaime Vallejos Mejias, a Columbian national, is under investigation by drug enforcement officers for carrying $40 million to Switzerland . He is, in fact, a money man for the Medellin drug cartel and an enforcer.

Police also discover that somebody has made an effort to ensure that only two rooms on the twelfth floor, 1215 and 1214, are occupied on the day of the murders.

Why would anybody do that? Didn't it strike the Miami police as odd that somebody should go to so much trouble?


Anomalies

  • If Krishna Maharaj had no qualms about murdering Derrick and Duane Moo Young, why did he not kill Neville Butler at the same time? Why leave an eye-witness to testify against you?

  • If Neville Butler was in the room when the murders occurred, why was he not charged with being an accessory before and after the fact? In Florida this charge carries a life sentence. The prosecution denied offering him a deal, but failed to explain why he didn't face any charges.

  • Tino Gedes, a Jamaican national, originally agreed to testify for the defence. On the eve of the trial he
    Tino Gedes
    switched sides and testified against Krishna Maharaj. At that time, Gedes was facing gun-running charges in Jamaica which could have resulted in a lengthy jail sentence. He was eventually fined just $1000 after Florida prosecutors flew to Jamaica to support him. After he died in 2011, it was discovered that he had been involved with the Medellin drug cartel for more than forty years.

  • Why did Maharaj's counsel, Eric Hendon, rest the defence case without making an effort to question the prosecution's evidence. Had he been threatened by the cartels, or was he just incompetent?

  • The trial judge, Howard Gross, arrested by undercover drug agents and then charged with taking a bribe from the Medellin cartel should have raised some concerns. It didn't.


Conclusion



In 2014, a member of the Medellin Cartel admitted that the cartel had murdered Derrick and Duane Moo Young. Can that statement be believed? I think so. It's easy to see why that might have happened. There is documented evidence to show that a $100 million letter of credit had been doctored by Derrick Moo Young. If you are going to rip off a drug cartel, do it in a big way.

The Moo Youngs' were involved in laundering hundreds of millions of dollars for the cartel. If they'd been discovered doing it once, how many other times and how many millions of dollars had they already taken?

So why didn't the Medellin Cartel murder the Moo Youngs' then quietly dispose of the bodies? The usual reason. They wanted to send a message to all the money men. Cross the Columbians' and you are dead.

Problem was that after years of police corruption in Miami, with the "Cocaine Cowboys" flooding Florida with a mountain of drugs, law enforcement agencies were now beginning to fight back. In 1987, the last thing the cartels needed was to be implicated in a high profile murder, especially when the money trail left by the Moo Youngs' led directly back to Columbia.

Claire Phillips painting of Krishna Maharaj 2009
They needed a fall guy. Krishna Maharaj fitted the bill perfectly. A multi-millionaire British national with a taste for the high life. He travelled the world, dipping into several diverse business deals.

How might they have pulled it off? Jaime Vallejos Mejias in room 1214 was the organiser, bringing all the elements together over a period of three months. Eddie Dames was used as bait, Tito Gedes coordinated everything concerning Krishna Maharaj, Adam Hosein pulled the trigger and Eddie Butler provided the eye-witness account that changed at least six times during his time on the witness stand.

Even if you don't buy into this sequence of events, does it raise a reasonable doubt about Krishna Maharaj's conviction for murder? At the age of 75 and after 26 years of imprisonment, he still maintains his innocence. How much longer does he have to live? 5 years? Wouldn't it be easier for him to say, look I haven't got much longer to live, I did it.

But he still refuses to say that. What he actually says is:
 "I want to be vindicated now. I don't want to be vindicated after I'm dead."
Are they the words of a guilty man?




Krishna Maharaj

Victim of the Cocaine Cowboys




Pictures and information courtesy of:


Injustice: Life and Death in the Courtrooms of America

by

Clive Stafford Smith


www.reprieve.org.uk

www. murderpedia.org

The Sun Sentinel, Miami

Miami Dade Police

U.S. Justice Department - Miami FL.


*Cocaine Cowboys is a 2006 documentary film directed by Billy Corben. The film explores the rise of cocaine and resulting crime epidemic that swept the American city of Miami, Florida, in the 1980s. The producers of Cocaine Cowboys use interviews with law enforcement, journalists, lawyers, former drug smugglers and gang members to provide a first-hand perspective of the Miami drug war.