BY KARYL WALKER Observer Online news editor firstname.lastname@example.org
Sunday, April 17, 2011
DESPITE languishing in the Pinellas County Jail in Florida almost two months after being convicted on drug charges, Reggae star Buju Banton is said to still be in high spirits and is keeping his fingers crossed that he will be able to walk free.
The artiste was found guilty by a 12-member panel of jurors, during a second drug trial in Tampa, Florida in February, of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute five or more kilogrammes of cocaine, possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking offence, and using the wires to facilitate a drug-trafficking offence.
He was found not guilty of attempted possession with the intent to distribute cocaine.
Banton is scheduled to be sentenced on June 23 and could be locked away for 15 years to life, but, according to his lead attorney David Oscar Markus, the artiste is still optimistic that he will be exonerated.
"Buju is amazing — he is still in good spirits and believes that good things are still going to happen. He is very happy that people are still supporting him and continuing to send him letters and good wishes. We are trying to stay optimistic. Buju makes that much easier. He is a rock and gives us all strength," Markus told the Sunday Observer. He said the appeal against the guilty verdict will be filed after the artiste is sentenced.
"We will be filing our appeal after he is sentenced. Our motions for the judge to set aside the jury's verdict is still pending," Markus said.
Banton had spent 11 months in jail after being arrested by federal agents at his home in Tamarac, South Florida in December 2009. He was arrested hours after drug enforcement agents in Tampa, Florida arrested two co-conspirators, James Mack and Ian Thomas, in a police-controlled warehouse, attempting to purchase a huge amount of cocaine from undercover cops.
Thomas and Mack have since pleaded guilty and are yet to be sentenced.
In his first trial in September last year, a panel of jurors, after days of deliberating, could not come to a unanimous decision as to his guilt or innocence and the case ended in a mistrial.
Banton was then granted bail and placed under house arrest after his close friend Stephen Marley, son of reggae king Bob Marley, put up his house in Florida as collateral. Banton was also allowed by a magistrate to perform at a concert in downtown Miami in order to raise funds to foot his legal bills for a second trial.
Ever since his arrest, Banton, whose birth name is Mark Anthony Myrie, has maintained his innocence and claims he was entrapped by the United States Government which paid an informant US$50,000 to snare him.
He also claimed that he bragged about fictitious drug connections in order to impress the informant who promised to secure a record deal for him.
He was found guilty just days after he was awarded the Reggae Grammy award for his album Before The Dawn.