Reggae singer Buju Banton could be out of federal prison in six years, according to his attorney David Oscar Markus. Speaking to reporters after the verdict of a 10-year sentence was handed down by United States judge Jim Moody, Markus said Banton would be credited with the 18 months he spent incarcerated in the Pinellas County Jail in Tampa, Florida.
“He will get credit for all the time he was in, plus good time credit. So he’s got six years remaining on his sentence. Six years is too much time, but it’s much better than the 15 years he was looking at going in this morning,” Markus said.
Banton, who will be taken to a federal prison in Miami next week, was philosophical in a message he sent with Markus telling his children to hold strain.
“To my family, especially my children, remember our little song, Love the Lord and do no evil. The man is not dead, don’t call him a ghost,” the message read.
Banton appeared in court dressed in prison garb and shackled at the feet. He watched silently as Markus appealed to the court for a lighter sentence and waved to his supporters before flashing a brief smile as he was whisked out of court.
After listening to Markus’ submission, Moody indicated that he was bound by law to hand down the mandatory 10-year sentence and agreed with an earlier argument by prosecutor Jim Preston that Banton’s participation was key to the drug deal and that he expected to profit from the deal despite limited participation. However, the judge did not concede to Preston’s request for a lengthy sentence.
The judge also dropped the charge of possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug offence, citing that Banton did not know that his two co-defendants — Ian Thomas and James Mack — were in possession of an illegal gun when they were arrested attempting to purchase a large amount of cocaine from federal agents in a police controlled warehouse in Tampa, Florida.
Preston, who argued that there was a difference between Buju Banton the “joyful” reggae artiste and Mark Myrie the drug dealer, appeared peeved when the sentence was read out and declined to speak with reporters outside the Sam Gibbons US Court when the matter ended.
Outside the court, Markus told reporters that he would be moving speedily to secure the artiste’s release in an appellate court in the neighbouring state of Georgia. If successful, the artiste could be out in less than the six years projected by Markus, whose legal team also included Margo Moss and Dave Seidel.
“We are hopeful, we are still optimistic, we are very thankful that the judge did that today and now we will appeal to an appellate court in Atlanta, Georgia,” Markus said. “Three judges will hear our case on the 10-year drug count that is left and we will be arguing that the evidence was insufficient on the drug count and that there was entrapment as a matter of law because of that scoundrel Alex Johnson. Mark Myrie is my brother, and I am going to keep fighting until they tell me to stop fighting.”
Johnson is the confidential US Government informant who approached Myrie and enticed him with arguments about illicit drug dealing during a flight from Madrid, Spain to the United States in 2008.
Myrie was arrested at his home in Tamarac, South Florida after almost a year of surveillance of telephone and live conversations and video recordings that included him tasting cocaine in a Saratoga warehouse.
Markus also had praise for the Pinellas County Jail correctional staff, who he said treated Banton fairly but said the artiste would fare better in a federal facility.
“Federal prison is not easy, but it’s better than the county prison where he is at. The people at the county have been nice to Mr Myrie and to us and they have been treating us well, but we are looking forward to getting him to a more permanent place where it will be a little easier on him,” said Markus.
Reggae singer Wayne Wonder was the artiste who introduced Banton to the world at the Sting dancehall show inside the National Stadium in the early 1990s, and the two have been close friends ever since. Throughout Banton’s troubles Wonder has been a pillar of support to his close friend and yesterday after the sentence was handed down, he gave an objective view on Banton’s fate.
“It is not good, but it could have been worse. Buju is a very strong person for all that he has gone through. I don’t think I could have endured it,” Wonder said.
Gramps Morgan has also been firmly supporting Banton during his tribulations and was also thankful that Banton was not slapped with a longer sentence.
“I am still praying and I give thanks to the most high for the leniency of the judge for understanding, because the judge’s job is to follow the law and the law is mandatory 10, so he couldn’t do anything about that, but still he dropped the gun charge. So we give thanks that it’s not more. We are not looking at 15 or 20 years,” Morgan told the Observer.
Another close friend of Banton who identified himself as ‘Rueben’ was hopeful that the appeal would end in the release of the artiste.
“All I have to say is, this is not the end,” Rueben said.
In December last year, Banton was granted bail on condition of house arrest. He was allowed to perform at a benefit concert in downtown Miami to raise funds for his legal fees going into his second trial after the first trial ended in a mistrial when a 12-member panel of jurors could not unanimously decide his innocence or guilt.
Under the conditions of his bail he was ordered to a wear a monitoring device and was only allowed to leave his home to purchase medication or to see his lawyer. He was also ordered to foot the bill for a security detail that would ensure that the conditions of bail were not violated.
Buju Banton will be deported after he finishes serving his sentence.