British man, 81, could be ‘executed by COVID-19’ in jail, campaigners say

Lawyers for an 81-year-old British businessman are pleading for his temporary release from prison after a suspected outbreak of COVID-19 in his dormitory.

Krishna Maharaj, who has spent decades in an American prison for a crime he says he did not commit, has been locked down in his cell after a prisoner in the 40-man dormitory was placed in quarantine.

Late last year, a judge in Florida ruled that Maharaj had proved his innocence by “clear and convincing evidence” and that “no reasonable juror could convict him” – but the original verdict has yet to be overturned and he remains in prison near Miami.

Kris' wife, Marita, fears for his safety
Image:Kris’ wife, Marita, fears for his safety

Maharaj was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of two business associates in 1986, although his sentence was later commuted to life in prison.

His lawyer Clive Stafford Smith, founder of the campaign group Reprieve, said: “Rather than exonerate him, Florida now seeks to execute him by COVID-19.

“Is it too much to ask for compassion for a desperately ill 81-year-old victim of such injustice?”

In an interview with Sky News in prison in February, Maharaj described the “hell” of his life inside in the face of repeated delays in trying to secure his release.

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But, as the concerns of the virus have grown in his prison, he said: “Now we have descended into the lowest regions of hell.”

Reprieve founder Clive Stafford Smith with Marita Maharaj
Image:Reprieve founder Clive Stafford Smith with Marita Maharaj

His wife Marita, who visits regularly from her home near the prison, said: “It is a death camp. I have had nightmares for many years where Kris is executed by the state of Florida, first in the electric chair, then by lethal injection.

“Now I think they’re going to execute him in a new way, by killing him with coronavirus. I am desperate for him.”

Maharaj’s lawyers have made a formal application to Florida governor Ron DeSantis for him to be furloughed with security arrangements in place. They say they have received no reply.

Despite having the authority, Mr DeSantis has been less willing than many governors in the US to order the early or temporary release of prison inmates, with the virus spreading in the country’s third largest jail system.

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The state’s department of corrections has said accelerated early release creates “significant risk”.

But Mr Stafford Smith said time was running out: “If Kris contracts coronavirus, there’s a significant chance it will prove fatal.”

Mark Gibson

Graduates in Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 1990. Move to Los Angeles California in 2004. Specialized in Internet journalism.

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