Oct 13, 2010

Buju bail hearing Thursday - Jamaican Reggae star's fate still uncertain


UNITED States magistrate Anthony Porcelli will on Thursday hear follow up arguments before he makes a decision on bail for Reggae star Buju Banton at the US Gibbons Court in Tampa, Florida.

An Observer source said it is likely that no decision will be made in relation to Banton receiving or being denied bail, when the matter is mentioned on Thursday afternoon.

Banton's attorney David Markus was not available for comment today.

Markus had last week applied for bail for his client after a 12 member panel of jurors failed to arrive at a united verdict which resulted in the singer's trial for drug-related offenses ending in a mistrial.

He is set to be re-tried in December and Markus is seeking to have his client released until the trial starts. But Banton's immigration status has caused some worry as he is likely to be picked up by immigration authorities even if he is granted bail.

Markus had indicated that Banton is not a flight risk and said he will be seeking an additional bond in the Immigration Court if bail is granted. But United States prosecutor James Preston is not letting up and has asked the court to throw out Markus' application without a hearing.

Banton , whose real name is Mark Myrie, has been in jail since December. He was arrested at his Tamarac home in South Florida by federal agents hours after his two co-defendants —James Mack and Ian Thomas — were arrested attempting to purchase cocaine from undercover cops in a police controlled warehouse in Sarasota, Florida.

Mack and Thomas have signed plea deal arrangements and will be sentenced next month.
But Banton maintains that he is innocent.

The singer's supporters and fans have started a drive to get 15,000 signatures on a petition to US Attorney General Eric Holder, urging him to step in and thwart the prosecution's bid to keep him languishing in jail.
Below is a copy of the petition:

Attorney General Eric H. Holder
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue,
NW Washington, DC 20530-0001

Dear Attorney General Holder:
I am writing to ask for your intervention with respect to a grave injustice against Grammy-nominated reggae music icon Buju Banton (legal name Mark Anthony Myrie).
The incarceration of this legendary musician without bail is unconscionable. He has been incarcerated in the Pinellas County Jail in Clearwater, Florida since January 2010 while he awaited his trial for drug conspiracy charges in the Middle District of Florida for which he has pleaded not guilty.
The charges are a result of information provided by a professional informant who relentlessly pursued Mr Myrie for six months to participate in a drug deal.
The trial held in September resulted in a hung jury.
In our great system of justice the accused is innocent until proven guilty. Therefore, persons accused of crime are entitled to bail. Mr. Myrie meets all of the requirements for bail, yet it has not been granted.
The professional informant in Mr. Myrie's case is a convicted drug trafficker from Colombia. This convicted felon has been granted legal immigration status and to date has earned over three million American dollars (tax free) for serving as an informant to various US government agencies. Taxpayer dollars certainly could be spent more effectively than on trying to entrap individuals who have no previous criminal record and have never been involved with drugs in any manner.
Is the Federal government presently in the business of creating criminals?
Mr Myrie, aka Buju Banton, produces uplifting, positive music comparable to the music of Bob Marley. His work inspires people worldwide. He has been nominated for a Grammy Award, the highest achievement in his field, four times since 1999. He is one of the leading voices of his generation, shedding light on such issues as the unrelenting violence and abject poverty pervasive in the Third World.
He has also represented his country in performances at the Summer Olympics in Greece in 2004 and at the Cricket World Cup Opening in 2007. Buju commemorated Jamaica's support for President Obama collaborating with Dave Stewart on "American Prayer," a tribute to the President. Additionally, Buju is a family man, an employer and a generous philanthropist.
Given Buju Banton's exemplary reputation, his humanitarian efforts and his cultural contributions to society, he should not be languishing in jail at US taxpayers’ expense.
I urge you to do whatever possible to end this injustice.

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