Worldwide appeal for Buju
Supporters intensify prayers, fasting for Reggae artiste's freedom
BY PAUL HENRY Observer staff reporter email@example.com
TAMPA, USA — Scores of Buju Banton supporters are hopeful that the Reggae artiste will be freed this morning after spending an anxiety-filled weekend in earnest prayer and fasting, and calling on worldwide audiences to join them in their appeal to God.
Jurors are expected to continue deliberating Banton's fate in the Sam M Gibbons Court this morning.
"We are praying for freedom. That is what we are praying for because freedom is a must," a supporter who goes by the name Ruben, told the Observer yesterday.
"The heathens said there is no God, but we are going to show them that there is a God," added Ruben, who spoke on behalf of the group.
Supporters of Banton, whose real name is Mark Anthony Myrie, have spent prayerful days since his arrest last December on cocaine-related charges and since the opening of his trial last Monday.
On the weekend, however, the calls on heaven appeared more intense as jurors on Friday concluded a second day of deliberation without arriving at a verdict. Across the Internet, requests were made for supporters to pray for Banton's acquittal, while others said they would be praying and fasting for a favourable outcome.
At a hotel in Tampa, where scores of Banton's supporters and relatives checked in after flying in from New York, Los Angeles and Jamaica, fasting and prayer and the reading of Bible verses was the order of the day.
The supporters co-ordinated their prayer time to coincide with that of Banton's. Banton is being held without bail.
And there is every reason to pray. If convicted of the crime the US Government is contending that the Jamaican artiste has committed, Banton, 37, could be sentenced to anywhere from 20 years to life in prison, and a fine of up to US$4 million.
Banton was arrested at his Tamarac, Florida home on December 10 and charged with conspiracy to possess and distribute five kilogrammes of cocaine and possession of a weapon during the furtherance of a crime.
His arrest followed that of two of his former co-accused, Ian Thomas and James Mack, who were nabbed during a sting operation at a warehouse in Florida after buying the five kilogrammes of cocaine from drug enforcement agents. Mack was carrying the gun for which Banton has been charged.
Thomas and Mack, who were jointly charged with Banton, pleaded guilty and will be sentenced in November.
Jurors will, at 8:45 this morning continue, to deliberate on whether or not Banton was a party to the deal at the warehouse.
The prosecution, led by Jim Preston, has said that Banton was the mastermind behind the deal; that he was the man who brought it all together with his earlier talks with Government informant Alexander Johnson as far back as July 2009.
Both men had met on a flight from Madrid to Florida, during which time drugs were discussed and they met the following day and remained in telephone contact.
Preston had told the jurors during the trial that Banton in December introduced Thomas to Johnson for the men to conclude the deal. Thomas eventually contacted Mack, who came from Georgia with US$130,000 to purchase the illicit drug when the two were arrested.
Only two days earlier, on December 8, Banton was videotaped tasting a sample of cocaine after Thomas handed him a knife which he used to cut into a five kilogramme parcel of drug.
But Banton's lawyer, David Oscar Markus, countered during the trial that his client was entrapped by the Government. He said that Johnson had, between July and December, vigourously pressured Banton about making cocaine deals.
Banton had said in his own defence that he was merely talking "crap" and trying impress Johnson when he was recorded between July and December talking about investing in the trafficking of cocaine.
The artiste told jurors that he did not know that he would be seeing drugs when he accompanied Johnson to a warehouse on December 8 where he was videotaped tasting the cocaine.
Banton said that Johnson had led him to believe he was going to inspect a sailboat Johnson owned.
Indeed, Johnson had testified under cross-examination that on December 8 he never told Banton that he was going to see cocaine. He said it was a flash showing.
Banton testified that he had stopped taking Johnson's calls since that day when he realised that Johnson was a real drug dealer.
While giving evidence last week, Banton told the jurors that he was "nervous and scared".
On Thursday, just as the case was being turned over to the jurors for deliberation, Banton turned to his supporters seated behind him and indicated that they should pray.