Jamaican dancehall and reggae artist Buju Banton was found guilty Tuesday of three of the four charges he faced -- conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute cocaine, possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense and using the wires to facilitate a drug trafficking offense.
He was acquitted of attempted possession with the intent to distribute cocaine. The charges stemmed from Banton's involvement in brokering a 2009 cocaine deal with an undercover drug informant.
The two-day federal jury deliberation left countless impassioned courtroom supporters in anguish and disbelief. Banton remains wildly popular in his native Jamaica, and his trial was packed with supporters that included other well-known reggae artists.
Banton, whose given name is Mark Anthony Myrie was arrested back in December 2009 when he attempted to set up a cocaine deal in the Tampa area. Banton, who has continued to maintain his innocence throughout the trial was taken to task for making boastful comments to the government informer about being heavily involved in drug dealing.
The 37-year-old dreadlocked performer insists however, that he was merely a "big talker" and wanted to impress the drug dealers because he thought they could help him make recording industry contacts.
The prosecution however had mounting evidence of recorded visual and audio meetings, and phone conversations where Banton discussed various drug transactions. On one piece of incriminating video, Banton is clearly depicted tasting the cocaine off the blade of a knife to determine its purity.
Banton's current drug-related case last September was declared a mistrial after the jury could not reach a unanimous decision. He was released on bond in November but the prosecution sought to re-indict him, and a new trial began this month.
The controversial artist, who has attracted criticism for his anti-gay stance which was quite evident in his mega late eighties hit "Boom Bye Bye" which contained lyrics that incited the murder of gay men, was allowed to perform one concert between trials. The Miami performance was held on January 16, 2011 to a sold-out crowd. And just one day before his retrial, Banton's latest work "Before the Dawn" won in the 'Best Reggae Album' category at the 53rd annual Grammy Awards.
Defense attorney David Oscar Markus, who, in closing arguments last week, begged the jury to return a not-guilty verdict, was visibly shaken as he descended the steps of the Sam M. Gibbons Building which houses the United States Middle District Court, Florida Division, in Tampa.
"We are all very upset and disappointed and emotional. The only person who seems to be okay is Buju. We just saw him in the lock-up and he told us that he was happy that he fought, knowing that he is innocent," Markus told the The Gleaner. He added: "We are just devastated. We are going to keep fighting, we are going to appeal, but right now I feel empty. I really don't have anything else to say ... . We are just going to keep fighting."
Banton could face up to 20 years in prison.
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