Tense wait for Buju – Judge to hand case to jurors today

FLORIDA, USA — The crushing and nail-biting wait is expected to begin today as Judge James Moody hands the case over to the 12 jurors who are to determine the fate of Grammy-winning reggae artiste Buju Banton.

Yesterday, the weight of uncertainty and anxiety was evident on the supporters and relatives of the artiste, who could be imprisoned for 20 years if found guilty.

Those attending the sitting of the retrial at the Sam M Gibbons Federal Court in Tampa were transfixed during closing arguments of defence attorney David Oscar Markus and prosecutor Jim Preston. Some sat nervously, while others prayed during the proceedings.

Judge Moody will today instruct the jurors in relation to the law before handing the case over to them.

“We are praying,” Markus told the Observer after court. “We have faith. I know in my heart that Buju did not commit a crime.”

During his closing argument, Preston told the jurors that Banton (real name Mark Myrie) was guilty as charged and asked them to return a like verdict.

“This is not about Mark Myrie the entertainer; it is about Mark Myrie the drug dealer,” Preston told the jurors.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Preston added, while standing, fingers jabbing in Banton’s direction, “I ask you to return to this courtroom with confidence and look at the defendant a say to him, Mr Myrie you are guilty as charged.”

But in his dramatic closing argument, Markus quoted from the book To Kill a Mockingbird, telling the jurors, “Please, ladies and gentlemen, please find Mark Myrie not guilty.”

Markus called the gun and wire charge against his client absurd, noting that it showed how desperate the prosecution was in wanting to convict the Grammy-winning artiste.

But in his response Preston said it was the defence who was desperate, skirting damaging information, directing the jurors to look at a tree instead of the whole forest. He said that Banton was in his present predicament because of his own desire to deal in drugs.

Banton’s first trial ended in a hung jury last year September when a jury of 12 failed to reach a verdict following roughly three days of deliberation.

The artiste has been on trial since Monday of charges of conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute cocaine; attempted possession with the intent to distribute cocaine; possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offence; and using the wires to facilitate a drug trafficking offence.

He was arrested on December 10, 2009 as part of a sting operation. His arrest came hours after his long-time friend Ian Thomas and James Mack was held in a drug bust.

Earlier yesterday, Preston presented telephone records, showing that, contrary to what Banton had said previously, he did in fact call government informant Alexander Johnson.

In his closing, Preston said Banton’s attorney had skirted the record. But Markus said the record was not clear as to who called whom.

Also yesterday, Banton apologised to the jurors for his outburst under a severe grilling from Preston, adding that it was another example of mouth getting him into trouble.

Banton also denied suggestions by Preston that he was broke and needed money. Preston had said that Banton was in a financial bind, which motivated him to seek Johnson’s assistance to enlarge his drug-running empire.

And Moody denied an application by Markus to have Mack give evidence. Mack had pleaded the Fifth Amendment. Moody also said that Mack’s affidavit asserting that he did not know Banton was hearsay and could not be used in court.

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