FLORIDA, USA — Jurors in the highly anticipated second trial of reggae superstar Buju Banton heard testimony yesterday from lead investigator Dan McCaffrey of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) that there was no evidence that the artiste was a drug trafficker. In fact, at the end of his cross-examination from defence lawyer David Oscar Markus, it was revealed that Buju did not finance or benefit from the drug deal that he was charged with being a part of.
|Jamaican reggae artiste Buju Banton (right) greets a friend outside the Sam M Gibbons Federal Court in Tampa, Florida yesterday afternoon after the first day of his retrial on drug and gun charges. (Photo: Paul Henry)|
McCaffrey's testimony yesterday was similar to that he gave on day one of Banton's first trial.
Based on his investigation, McCaffrey said that two men from Georgia known only as Ike and Tyke put up the US$135,000 that Buju's friend Ian Thomas and another man — James Mack — had presented to undercover drug agents when they were busted in a sting operation on December 10, 2009.
In addition, McCaffrey said that there was no evidence of any connection between Buju and Ike and Tyke. The agent also agreed that Ike and Tyke were the buyers of the drugs for which Banton was arrested.
McCaffrey, while making these admissions and agreeing that Mack was a courier for Ike and Tyke, maintained that Thomas and Buju were the ones who brokered the drug deal.
During his opening statement to jurors, prosecutor James Preston said that Buju's role had shifted from seeking new avenues to expanding his multimillion-dollar drugs enterprise to that of a broker.
Preston told the jurors that Buju was actively involved in the conspiracy to possess and distribute cocaine, noting that he would provide the evidence to back his statement.
But during his address of the jurors, Markus presented a checklist of 10 reasons why his client is not guilty, chief among them is that Buju had backed out of earlier drug talk with Johnson on December 8, 2009 after discovering that Johnson was a real drug dealer.
Following yesterday's early adjournment, as a result of a juror falling ill, Buju and his lawyer emerged from the Sam M Gibbons Federal Court in Tampa and gave brief statements to the press. Markus said that he was pleased with how the day had progressed.
"We had a very good day," Markus told a throng of reporters. "We feel good. I feel the same way Mark [Buju] feels, that once the jurors listen to the facts they will find him not guilty because he's not guilty. He's innocent."
Buju had moments earlier told reporters that he was thankful for the jurors who were selected and asked that they pay attention to the facts of the case.
Two hours were spent yesterday morning selecting the 12 jurors who would decide Buju's fate. The panel is comprised of three African-American women.
The artiste is being tried for 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.
If convicted, Buju could be sent to prison for 20 years.
Earlier in the morning, Buju, dressed in a dark suit and blue shirt, kept a cheerful demeanour, laughing and chatting with his attorneys. At one point as they stood for the entrance of the jurors, a member of Banton's legal team could be seen rubbing his back in a comforting way as they spoke.
In his opening address to the jurors, Markus petitioned to his client to stand, "This is Mark Myrie and he is not guilty," the lawyer said.
Markus told the jury that the artiste had no connection to the gun for which he was charged and that he had no connection to the drugs or the players in the deal.
But Preston said that Banton was a drug dealer and that the evidence would prove it. He told the jurors that at the end of the evidence he would be calling on them to convict the artiste, adding that America was depending on them.
Yesterday, Markus painted Johnson as a con artist, saying that he had set up Banton for financial benefit. Jurors were told that Johnson was paid US$50,000 for his part in the Buju Banton investigation.
Johnson, a former drug dealer turned informant, has been paid a total of US$3.3 million for his work with the US Government since 1996.