Friday, June 24, 2011

Reggae star Buju Banton sentenced to 10 years for drug trafficking

Grammy-winning reggae star Buju Banton on Thursday was ordered to serve 10 years and one month in federal prison for a conviction of cocaine trafficking.

The sentence could have been longer — a minimum of 15 years — had U.S. District Judge James Moody not granted a defense motion to dismiss a firearm charge because the singer did not have a gun during the crime, and the judge said Banton could not have known another conspirator had the weapon.

Banton, whose real name is Mark Myrie, did not speak at his sentencing hearing. He blew a kiss to his supporters in the courtroom as he was being led away, and a woman said, "We love you, Buju!"

The wildly popular Jamaican singer released a statement, read by his attorney, David Oscar Markus, after the sentencing, thanking his fans for their support and pledging to move forward: "The days that lie ahead are filled with despair, but I have courage and grace and am hopeful. And that is sufficient to carry me through."

A jury in February found Banton, 38, 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.

A previous trial on the same charges ended in a mistrial last year when jurors deadlocked.

The federal jury's verdict came days after the Jamaican-born reggae star won a Grammy award for his work titled "Before the Dawn." When the convictions were announced, supporters in the crowded federal courtroom in downtown Tampa expressed anguish and disbelief.

His supporters were more subdued Thursday.

Rencie Kolours of New York said, "At the end of the day, I wouldn't want him to get any time." But he said of the sentence, "We're going to have to work with it. We're strong people, African people."

Banton's defense during the trial was that he was set up by a highly paid government informant.

The prosecution countered that evidence showed Banton already was involved in drug trafficking, and that he was eager to expand his drug activities when the informant offered an opportunity.

Outside the courtroom, surrounded by Banton's supporters, Markus said with time already served and credit for good behavior, Banton should be released in about six years.

The singer's career will continue, Markus said. "We're looking forward to him winning more Grammys. He'll have a life again."

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