TAMPA, USA — "I am fighting," said embattled Jamaican reggae artiste Buju Banton as he hustled to his hotel hounded by reporters following what could be described as a tough second day in the Sam M Gibbons Federal Court in this Florida city where he is being retried on drugs and gun-related charges.
Banton refused to comment on the case as he pushed a stroller a few blocks from the court to his hotel being chased by reporters and photographers.
Moments after court adjourned yesterday, Banton's attorney David Oscar Markus said they were in the middle of a battle which they intended to win.
The unfolding of that battle continued yesterday with prosecutor James Preston showing jurors footage from a sting operation which captured Banton tasting cocaine from a knife used by his long-time friend Ian Thomas to cut into a parcel of the illicit substance on December 8, 2009.
The prosecution also continued playing for jurors audio recordings of what appeared to be Banton making a cocaine deal with Government informant Alexander Johnson, on August 1, 2009.
But the defence stormed into the battle minutes after 2:00 pm when Markus finally got his chance at Johnson, the prosecution's main witness.
Markus wasted no time in tearing into Johnson, depicting him as a financially troubled man who saw Banton as an opportunity to get out of his mortgage debt and to make money to clear his tax arrears, noting that Johnson has also filed for bankruptcy.
It was brought out in court that Johnson was paid US$50,000 for the role he played leading to Banton's arrest on December 10, 2009. During his work for the Government as an informer from 1996, Johnson said he has earned over US$3.3 million, more than what he had made during his time transporting thousands of killogrammes of cocaine in the United States from the 1980s to 1996 when he was arrested.
Johnson, jurors were told, is usually paid 15 to 20 per cent of the money seized from drug arrests in which he plays a role.
Yesterday, Markus suggested that it was this need for money that drove Johnson to hound Buju and his insistence that both men meet to concretise their drug talks. Reading from the transcripts of the recorded conversation between both men, Markus pointed out that it was Johnson who kept bringing up cocaine when he spoke with the Jamaican artiste.
Johnson, however, said he was doing his job and told the court that this was how he made a living.
Johnson gave evidence early yesterday morning that both men met on a plane on July 2009 on a flight from Madrid, Spain to Florida and that Buju brought up drugs when he heard that he was a Colombian. But under cross-examination from Markus later in the day, Johnson said he was the one who brought up drugs in the conversation.
Johnson also said in his examination-in-chief that the men met the following day to discuss drug ventures.
But under grilling from Markus, it was brought out that it was Johnson who brought up the argument of drugs some two hours into the conversation and after both men where drinking heavily.
Banton is facing 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.
The artiste, whose real name is Mark Anthony Myrie, was arrested on December 10, 2009 following the arrest of Thomas and James Mack.
Johnson said yesterday that Buju had introduced him to Thomas, who then introduced him to Mack to wrap up their drug deal.
Mack and Thomas were arrested after Mack brought $135,000 to an undercover warehouse to purchase drugs from undercover cops. The gun for which Buju has been charged was in Mack's possession.