Mistrial frees imprisoned reggae star Buju Banton

Buju Banton

Via: The Associated Press
By: Jennifer Kay

A Florida judge on Monday (Sept. 27) declared a mistrial for the Jamaican reggae star Buju Banton, who was accused of conspiring to buy cocaine from an undercover police officer last year.

U.S. District Judge James Moody declared a mistrial after the 12-person jury sent him a second note on Monday saying they couldn’t reach a verdict. They had been deliberating since Thursday, after a four-day trial.

Banton’s attorney has asked Moody to release Banton on bond. He has been held without bond since his December arrest in South Florida.

Banton, a four-time Grammy nominee, had been charged with conspiracy to possess and distribute cocaine and aiding two others in possessing a firearm during the course of cocaine distribution. He faced up to life in prison.

The 37-year-old singer, whose real name is Mark Myrie, testified that he talked a lot about cocaine with a U.S. government informant, but he was only trying to impress the man, who claimed to have music industry connections, and not secure a drug deal.

The informant, Alexander Johnson, testified that Banton admitted involvement in drug trafficking, and he wanted to give Johnson money so he could buy and sell cocaine.

Their recorded conversations from July 2009 through December were played for the jury.

Banton said he never wanted nor expected Johnson to set up a cocaine deal, despite what he said in the recordings. The singer had told Johnson that he financed drug deals, wanted to sell drugs in Europe, buy drugs from the Caribbean and South America and use Johnson’s boat to transport drugs.

Banton said he was surprised when the informant presented him with cocaine at an undercover police warehouse in Sarasota on Dec. 8. Surveillance video shows Banton peering over co-defendant Ian Thomas’ shoulder at the cocaine, and the singer tasting the drugs with a finger.

On Dec. 10, Thomas and another co-defendant, James Mack, were arrested at the warehouse after trying to buy the drugs. Banton was not present and was arrested at his Miami-area home.

Thomas and Mack pleaded guilty, and each faces up to life in prison. Neither testified in the trial that began Monday in Tampa federal court.

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