TAMPA, Florida — Grammy-winning Jamaican reggae artiste Buju Banton was said by close friends to be in good mental condition yesterday, four days after his conviction on gun and drug charges which could land him prison for life.
The Sunday Observer has learnt that the artiste has been consoling and encouraging friends who have been devastated by his conviction last Tuesday.
A number of persons told the Sunday Observer between then and yesterday that the artiste has been showing amazing strength in the Pinellas County jail where he is awaiting sentencing.
No specific date has been set for Banton's sentencing, but his attorney, David Oscar Markus, said it would be within the next three months.
"I called him yesterday crying and he was the one encouraging me to keep strong," said a friend of the artiste, who asked not be named.
"He's is doing fine," said another earlier last week. "He is encouraging us to remain confident."
These accounts are in line with Markus' assessment of the artiste's mindset immediately following the conviction. "We are all devastated," Markus told a group of reporters outside the Sam M Gibbons Federal Court in downtown Tampa where the case was tried. "He seems to be the only person that is doing well."
One of the reasons given for the strength being displayed by Banton, whose real name is Mark Myrie, could be his confidence that his conviction will be overturned on appeal or his insistence that he is innocent.
The 37-year-old artiste had said during his two days in the witness box that if he were guilty of the crime for which he had been charged he would have accepted the two-year plea deal offered to him by the prosecution.
Banton has also been telling depressed friends, "It's not over," in reference to his appeal.
The artiste has been convicted of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute five or more kilogrammes of cocaine, possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking offence, and using the wires to facilitate a drug-trafficking offence.
However, he was found not guilty of attempted possession with the intent to distribute cocaine.
Banton was arrested on December 10, 2009 hours after two men — Ian Thomas and James Mack — were busted in an undercover warehouse where they had gone to purchase cocaine. US$135,000 was seized and the gun for which Banton was charged was found in Mack's car. Both men have pleaded guilty and are yet to be sentenced.
The operation was set in train in July 2009 as a result of Banton's bragging to US government informant Alexander Johnson that he was a financier of drugs and sought his assistance in expanding his venture.
The prosecution has contended that Banton was instrumental in brokering the deal, which resulted in the arrest. But Banton said that he was not part of the deal, even though he introduced Thomas to Johnson.
Banton said he was merely talking when he spoke with Johnson about making drug deals and that it was Thomas who brokered the deal. The artiste said he backed away from Johnson after December 8, 2009 when Johnson showed him cocaine in a warehouse. Banton was captured on video tasting the drug.
Banton's first trial last September ended with a hung jury, paving the way for the retrial, which began on February 14.