Clive Stafford Smith has been sounding off again about one of his 'innocent' clients in an American prison. As usual, there is more to the story than he lets on.
To be thrown into gaol and convicted of a crime you didn't commit is a terrible thing, especially when that crime is a double murder and you are sentenced to death. We have seen more than a few murder convictions in this country that were based on flimsy evidence, no-evidence or even manufactured evidence. After Michael Stone - who is still in prison - arguably the most ridiculous such case was that of Colin Stagg, who although not convicted, had the shadow of Rachel Nickell hanging over him for a decade until the real murderer, Robert Napper, was brought to book.
The case of Stefan Kiszko - who was convicted - was even more shocking. This vulnerable and totally harmless man spent a decade and a half behind bars branded a child sex killer, was driven mad at one point, and died at the age of 41 shortly after his release. The most shocking thing and terrible thing about this case is that not only was Kiszko innocent, but that the people who destroyed his life knew he was innocent at the time, and suppressed the forensic evidence that proved someone else had murdered 11 year old Lesley Molseed. Ronald Castree was eventually convicted of her murder. Kiszko's conviction was effected by an unholy conspiracy of at least one corrupt police officer, a corrupt barrister and a corrupt forensic scientist, none of whom were ever brought to book.
Clive Stafford Smith would have the world believe that something like that happened in the Maharaj case. The only problem with that scenario is everything.
Here he is theGuardian, July 8, and the New Statesman, July 4.
[If you have problems with the first Guardian link, try this one].
According to Decca Aitkenhead, he is one of her heroes. Well, he is a good looking guy, charismatic, well-spoken, much travelled. He's also married, so best not go there. Unfortunately, it appears that Decca Aitkenhead, or perhaps that should be Decca Airhead, is talking about his death row work.
According to this hagiography, “Not believing for a minute that he could be found guilty, he hired a spectacularly hopeless lawyer, in large part because he offered his services for an affordable fixed rate. Why, Maharaj reasoned, spend a fortune when it's obvious I'm innocent?”
That old useless lawyer gambit again. According to Stafford Smith and his Reprieve organisation, the only reason their client Linda Carty is on death row is because she had a useless lawyer, and of course because she was framed by wicked drug dealers. Needless to say, Miss Carty's former lawyers think otherwise. Both of them. So did the appellate court, which begs the question, has Mr Stafford Smith ever heard of the Strickland Standard?
The New Statesman article warrants a closer look because there is a lot more to it regarding the Maharaj case. It begins with the bland statement: “Kris Maharaj has been in jail in Miami since 1986 for a double murder, yet all the evidence shows there is no way that he was the killer”.
Does a claim of this nature require any refuting? Unless this is another Michael Stone case, in which he was convicted on the basis of a confession he was alleged to have shouted through a prison wall, there must surely be some evidence against him. As indeed there is, lots of it.
It is true that the first judge in the capital murder trial was arrested for corruption in an unrelated case. This was of course grounds for a mistrial, but the lawyer acting for Maharaj was happy to continue with the trial, and so was Maharaj himself.
Stafford Smith claims that six people could have alibied Maharaj for the time of the murder, which begs the question why did the defense not call any of them? Surely Maharaj would have mentioned this to the police, and they would have questioned all of them? Apparently not.
There is also the matter of the testimony of Neville Butler, who was with Maharaj when he committed the murders, and appears to have been extremely lucky not to have found himself in the dock along with him, if not on a capital murder charge then as an accessory before the fact.
Then there is another matter, Maharaj did not testify himself. In the UK, a defendant will usually testify in a murder case, and in trials for most lesser crimes. In the United States, a defendant will often not testify, and although a jury is not supposed to read anything into this, very often it will. Why didn't Maharaj testify and say, hey man, like I was miles away, because...
What of these six witnesses? Again, they should have come forward or been brought forward at the time. If they could have alibied Maharaj then, he would quite likely never have been brought to trial.
One other little matter is his gun, which he claimed to have lost during a traffic stop. This appears not to have been the case. The reason Maharaj did not have this gun is clearly because he disposed of it after murdering Derrick Moo Young and his son Duane Moo Young.
It should now be clear why Maharaj did not take the stand to rebut the evidence of Neville Butler. If he had, he would also have been cross-examined about the gun, and many other incriminating anomalies for which he could offer no credible explanation.
Finally, Mr Stafford Smith makes a claim he has made elsewhere before, and it is still as unreliable as it was when he made it then, and every other time he has made it, namely that in the 1993 case Herera v Collins, the innocence of a convicted person is irrelevant, or as he puts it here: “'claims of actual innocence based on newly discovered evidence have never been held to state a ground for federal habeas corpus relief'. In plain English: whether Kris is innocent is not relevant to whether he should die in prison."
From this statement, it is clear that Mr Stafford Smith's understanding of the English language is every bit as flawed as his understanding of American law. Claims of innocence are not the same as evidence of innocence.
Consider: I was thirty miles away at the time of the murders.
That is a claim.
I was thirty miles away at the time of the murders, and here is my bus ticket that proves it.
That is still only a claim, though the bus ticket may provide some evidence that the claim is true.
I was arrested for being drunk and disorderly six hours before the murders, and was released 8 hours after the bodies were discovered. If a claim of that nature can be verified, perhaps by the arresting officer and two or three other police officers, then clearly the case, any case, would never get anywhere near a courtroom.
Finally, this is what an innocent man looks like, two of them. This was a very high profile case; note one of the defendants claimed he confessed under duress, and was still acquitted. There was absolutely no forensic evidence linking them to the victim, nor was there bad blood between the victim and either of them. Although it is possible to raise doubts over the conviction of Krishna Maharaj, on closer examination, they all turn out to be smoke and mirrors, which, sadly, is nothing new for Clive Stafford Smith.
Yesterday, he was a guest contributor to The Independent - sure it is - in which he said he couldn't for the life of him see why John Terry was dragged into court. Hopefully Mr Terry doesn't read that newspaper, because he would surely be embarrassed to realise he has such a disreputable supporter.
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