Buju's fate in jury's hands

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FLORIDA, United States, Friday September 24, 2010 – A federal jury in Florida reconvenes this morning to consider the fate of drug-accused Jamaican reggae singer Buju Banton after failing to reach a verdict yesterday.

The jury deliberated for about four hours after three days of hearing evidence from witnesses and from the 37-year-old entertainer himself.

Buju, whose real name is Mark Myrie, is accused of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and aiding and abetting two others in possessing a firearm during the course of distribution. If convicted, he faces 20 years to life in prison and a fine of up to US$4 million. 

Prosecutors presented a case in which they argued that Buju spoke about having an illegal drug empire with a man on a flight from Spain to Miami in July last year, who turned out to be undercover United States government informant, Alexander Johnson.

Johnson testified that when he met Buju, the singer told him he was involved in transporting cocaine. However, he admitted pursuing a deal in which Buju was supposed to have been the middle man in the purchase of five kilos of cocaine from him. The prosecution’s star witness said he pushed for the sale despite Buju cancelling meetings and sometimes not answering his calls.

“I needed him to come to me,” Johnson told the court. “I was doing the job I was doing from day one.”

Johnson has been working undercover for the US Government since 1996, following a conviction on drug-trafficking charges and is paid based on the number of arrests he is able to secure.

Defence attorney David Markus has alleged entrapment.

When Buju took the witness stand, he claimed that he made up the story about being involved in drugs because he was trying to impress Johnson whom he though had contacts in the music industry. He said his contract with Tommy Boy Records had expired that year and he thought Johnson could link him up with people who could sign him.   

“I was talking garbage. I was just talking straight up garbage. He was trying out-talk me,” Buju testified. 

“I’m just a humble musician. I was just talking above my head. I was trying to impress this guy and that’s what got me into this hot seat,” he said in another part of his testimony.

Buju also said that he was shocked when drugs were brought to a meeting at a warehouse with Johnson and former co-accused Ian Thomas in December – a meeting that was videotaped and showed Buju tasting the drugs. “I was in over my head,” Buju said.

In addition to calling Buju to the stand, Markus had Stephen Marley, the son of late music legend Bob Marley, testify as a character witness for his client. Marley said that he had known the singer for 20 years and never heard him discuss drugs.

Markus had also requested that James Mack, the other former co-accused who accepted a plea deal, give evidence but he backed out and pleaded the Fifth Amendment. Neither Mack nor Thomas gave evidence in the trial for either side. They will both be sentenced later this year.

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