The longest day of the year, June 21 probably seemed longer for dancehall artist Buju Banton whose anticipated dawn darkened with news that his appeal for a retrial and shortened sentence were denied by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, Georgia.
“I called him and told him about the decision,” Banton’s attorney David Markus said, “He, like me, was heartbroken.”
“He couldn’t believe it.”
Reportedly, the reggae talent and his lawyer were both convinced of victory in the higher court.
“He believes that we were right and would win,” Markus added.
The panel of three judges agreed with the Florida jury’s conviction of Banton on a gun possession charge and rejected Banton’s argument that his right to a speedy trial had been violated.
Markus noted that while the appeal court has sent the matter back to the lower court to decide if Banton should be retried, it agreed with the prosecution that he should have been given prison time for the presence of a firearm during the drug deal.
The appeal court left open the possibility that Banton — whose given name is Mark Myrie — could be granted a new trial but it also raised the prospect of his prison sentence being extended by five more years.
“I’m sick to my stomach over this opinion. I truly believe that a good man is in jail for talking a big game,” the attorney said.
“I will continue to fight for him,” Markus said.
Less than a year ago, Banton was found guilty of conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute cocaine, possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking offense and using a telephone to facilitate a drug-trafficking offense.
The conviction carried a 15-year prison sentence.
However, Florida presiding Judge James Moody threw out the gun conviction and at his sentencing lowered Banton’s prison time to 10 years.
In appealing his conviction, Banton argued that the government did not establish that he was part of a drug conspiracy.
The judges disagreed saying that the “evidence on record supports Myrie’s conviction.”
“Given Myrie’s familiarity with the drug trade, the jury could have reasonably concluded that the carrying or using of a gun by a co-conspirator was a reasonably foreseeable action …,” the appeal court ruled.
“Myrie demonstrated familiarity with the drug trade, and his behavior during the instant offense was consistent with his described role of an investor who stays on the outside,” the judges said.
The Appeal Court also rejected Banton’s claim that his conviction should be dismissed on the basis that he was entrapped by Alexander Johnson, an informer.
“Johnson only engaged Myrie on the topic of the cocaine after Myrie indicated his familiarity with drug dealing, and Myrie asked Johnson if he could purchase cocaine for him …” the judges said in their ruling
“Though Myrie testified that he was just trying to out-talk Johnson and that he was not a drug dealer trying to conduct a drug deal, we assume, based on the jury verdict, the jury disbelieved Myrie …”
Banton’s argument that he should be set free because he did not get a speedy trial was also rejected by the judges who said any delay was understandable and did not prejudice his defense.
The Appeal Court judges noted that after the jury returned the guilty verdict against Buju in the district court, his lawyers had filed a motion for judgment of acquittal or for a new trial.
At that time, the sitting judge granted an acquittal on the gun charge but did not rule on the motion for a new trial.
“Because the district court did not comply with the (rules), we remand for the district court to make a determination on Myrie’s motion for a new trial,” the Appeal Court judges said.
According to his lawyer, the news resonated negatively with the jailed reggae artist.
He is reportedly “crushed” and “heartbroken” by the Appeals’ verdict.
“He’s been strong for a long while, but this is a big blow for him,” added Markus.
“I truly believe that a good man is in jail for talking a big game. I will continue to fight for him,” Markus said.
Catch You On The Inside!