The Injustice System

A man sits on death row for a crime he may not have committed.

The Injustice System by Clive Stafford Smith

Capital punishment has been a long-standing, contentious issue. The matter of life and death is a self evidently loaded topic and, like abortion, it inspires starkly polarizing views. However, one thing can be asserted to caution against the practice: statistically, there is an undeniable number of wrongfully accused. Contemplating the scenario where a guiltless person is condemned to death is unbearable, for that would mean the original crime has been grossly magnified; it’s a double offense because the actual perpetrator is exculpated while society has to bear the disgrace of effectuating a superfluous iniquity upon an innocent.  

Typically, the public consumes stories of innocent defendants retrospectively and with the plot advancing ineluctably towards vindication. Take the famous instance of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, the wrongly imprisoned African American, whose story of racial discrimination is dramatized by Denzel Washington in film and by Bob Dylan in the eponymous song, “The Hurricane.”

Clive Stafford Smith was an Atlanta lawyer who acquired a degree in law so he could achieve a twofold goal: rescuing inmates on death row while pursuing the termination of institutional capital punishment. His nonfiction work, “The Injustice System”, is not a happy ending like “The Hurricane” because the outcome is still unfolding, and therefore, indeterminate. In the book, Smith postulates the innocence of Trinidad-born British millionaire entrepreneur, Krishna Maharaj, who has been implicated in a double murder. The case has a sense of urgency and dread because despite Smith’s investigation, which casts more than a reasonable doubt on Mahara’s culpability, Mahara still languishes in a prison cell and might never be liberated.

The rudiments of the crime goes as follows: In 1986, Derrick Moo Young and his son, Duane, were found murdered, shot dead, inside the DuPont Plaza hotel in downtown Miami. The double murder lead to the implication of Maharaj because the deceased were his former business partners.  Maharaj has been on death row ever since the arraignment.

Many aspects of Maharaj’s trial and sentencing have been deemed murky. According to Stafford Smith’s independent investigation, he surmises all sorts of unprofessional conduct from nearly every apparatus affiliated with the case. Maharaj could not avail himself of a decent lawyer.  The prime witness failed to satisfactorily pass the lie detector test. The initial judge in the case was replaced because of allegations of corruption. And crucially, the evidence adduced by the forensics team, namely the ballistics tests, was not collected under veritable conditions.

The book proposes alternative theories that, to Stafford Smith, seem more plausible. Although Smith charges Maharaji’s lawyer as inept, Smith confides in a chilling explanation – that the defense lawyer intentionally lost the trial due to threats against his family by South American drug dealers who Smith suspects were involved with the murder.

Although Smith believes his independent findings have identified the true assassin of Young and Duane, the likeliness that Maharaj’s exoneration is a remote one. 

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The Injustice System