May 22, 2015

Buju Banton: Teenage Sensation to Convicted Warrior (Onstage TV 45min documentary)

Onstage TV is a Jamaican entertainment news and current affairs channel based in Kingston covering the spectrum of Jamaican/Caribbean happenings worldwide. Its where in-dept stories that delve into the lifestyles, successes and failures of Reggae/Dancehall celebrities are told.

Here is their story on Buju Banton. Published May 20, 2015

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Buju to serve full sentence - pressured into an agreement

Rosemary Duncan, coordinator of the three-member Buju Banton Defense Support Committee, says the incarcerated reggae artiste was "pressured into an agreement" to drop any further appeals.

Buju Banton (given name Mark Myrie) is currently serving a mandatory 10-year sentence in a Georgia correctional facility on cocaine charges.

Last Thursday, the reggae singer said he would be halting any further appeals, while the US Attorney Office announced it would be dismissing firearms charge against the singer.

"The court had thrown out the gun charge twice. However, the prosecution still had the option of pursuing a new trial ... and if convicted, he would get an additional five years," the St Lucian-born, US-based Duncan told the Jamaica Observer.

Buju Banton -- who was arrested in 2009 -- was convicted in February 2011. He is scheduled to be deported to Jamaica in 2019.

The support committee coordinator said the decision to discontinue the appeals came from the artiste himself.

"It was his own decision, based on his own analysis. He realised that every time there is hope, the court would say something else. He said he's done 5 1/2 years and could do 3 1/2 years more. It had nothing [to do] with legal cost, as he always paid his lawyers," she explained.

The entertainer's legal team comprises Harvard professor Charles Ogletree and Max Stern.

In January, Ogletree told the Observer he would be pulling out all the stops to free his client.

"We will be fighting for Buju Banton's freedom. We will present our arguments for a reversal of his conviction to the entire court in an en banc hearing later this spring," he said.

Duncan, who said the support group was formed in 2011 to champion Buju Banton's cause, said despite the decision, he remains positive.

"I spoke with him today. He's the same person, in terms of spirit. He's writing great music for his fans," she said.

Days after his 2011 conviction, Buju Banton won a Grammy Award for his album Before Dawn. His other albums include 'Til Shiloh (1995), Inna Heights (1997) and Unchained Spirit (2000).

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Mar 1, 2015

Special Prosecutor Appointed to Investigate Rogue Juror in Buju Case

Ever since Buju Banton, one of Jamaica's most talented and controversial reggae singers, was convicted of cocaine trafficking and gun charges in 2011, there have been signs his trial was not on the up-and-up.

You may recall he was sentenced to ten years and lingers in federal lockup. That sentence was allowed to stand even though New Times first disclosed in 2012 that the jury forewoman, Terri Wright, had conducted outside research while the trial was ongoing. That's a violation of court procedures, so 19 months ago, a federal judge ordered the U.S. government to bring criminal contempt charges against Wright.

Virtually nothing happened. But now there's movement. A special prosecutor from outside the U.S. Department of Justice has been tasked with leading the case against the rogue juror and plans to meet with Banton's legal team, Wright, and the feds.

Though no one on the government end is talking much, the appointment of a special prosecutor in such a situation is significant. Such prosecutors are typically reserved for investigating government officials.

So is there a wider probe into potential misconduct that could move Banton a step closer to freedom?

"I hope," says defense attorney Charles Ogletree, who heads Harvard Law School's Institute for Race and Justice. He has been representing Banton (real name Mark Myrie) for the past year. "Here we have a wildcat juror, somebody who's going way beyond their authority and doing things that were completely inappropriate. This undermined the search for truth, which resulted, I think, in the conviction of [Banton]."

Wright's misdeeds extend far beyond doing internet research during the trial. She appears to have lied on several occasions, including during jury selection for Banton's trial, when she told the court she had served in only one previous trial. In reality she had served in seven.

Moreover, when the judge ordered Wright to turn over her computer for forensic analysis, Wright submitted a bogus hard drive. It was in the wake of this deception that the judge called for the contempt charges.

Lost in all of this mess is that Banton remains locked up. It has been six years since he was arrested. He has been through two trials -- the first ended in a hung jury and the second was corrupted by Wright. He has served more jail time than the men who were actually at the scene of the crime with stacks of cash and a gun trying to buy cocaine. (He was far away when the bust happened.)

The criminal informant who built the case against Buju had been deemed untrustworthy by a previous judge and had financial incentive to bend the truth in favor of the prosecution. One-third of the jurors have even admitted to New Times that they did not want to find the singer guilty on the gun charge, which carries a five-year sentence.

It's the jury forewoman's actions that most disturb Harvard's Ogletree, though. "What Terri Wright did is contrary to everything that anyone knows about jury trials," he says. "Jurors... take an oath, and they need to follow it."

Banton's case remains under review by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, where Ogletree recently presented an oral argument centering largely on all the unknowns surrounding Wright. Two weeks ago, the panel requested that all 11 judges of the court review the case. Another hearing is expected this spring.

"We have all the evidence going in our direction," Ogletree says. "We're ready."

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Feb 1, 2015

Unchained spirit

Despite Wednesday's unsuccessful bid, Professor Charles Ogletree -- part of reggae singer Buju Banton's legal team -- is vowing to continue the fight to have his client's conviction reversed.

"We will be fighting for Buju Banton's freedom," said Olgetree, a professor at Harvard Law School, in a written response to the Jamaica Observer's queries.

On Wednesday, a United States Appeal Court dismissed the request to have the reggae artiste's conviction overturned to secure a new trial. But Ogletree, who, along with Max Stern comprise Buju Banton's legal team, is undaunted.

"We have not lost the appeal. The 11th Circuit made it clear that the entire Appellate Court should hear his case. We will present our arguments for a reversal of his conviction to the entire Court in an En Banc hearing later this spring," he said.

Buju Banton, whose given name is Mark Myrie, is currently serving a mandatory 10-year prison sentence for a charge of conspiracy to distribute cocaine. The 41-year-old is scheduled to be released in 2019. He has filed a motion requesting an early release under new federal drug sentencing guidelines.

He was convicted in February 2011, days after winning a Grammy award for his album, Before the Dawn. His other albums include 'Til Shiloh (1995), Inna Heights (1997) and Unchained Spirit (2000).

"We are grateful to the people of Jamaica and around the world who have been steadfast in fighting for justice for Buju Banton!," Ogletree concluded.


Jan 23, 2015

No New Trial For Buju

Grammy award-winning Jamaican reggae artiste Buju Banton has lost his appeal to have his conviction overturned to secure a new trial.

With this ruling, that was handed down in a Florida court earlier this week, Buju Banton, whose given name is Mark Myrie, will continue to serve his 10-year prison sentence.

He is currently serving a mandatory sentence for his conviction on a charge of conspiracy to distribute cocaine.

Buju is scheduled to be released in 2019, however he filed his own motion from prison asking to be released early under a recent change in federal drug sentencing guidelines.

He was convicted in February 2011, days after he won a Grammy award for his album, “Before the Dawn.”