It was not an easy road

BY HOWARD CAMPBELL
Observer senior writer

Thursday, December 06, 2018

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On Saturday, Buju Banton is set to be released from federal prison in Georgia. He has been incarcerated in the United States since 2010 for a drug-related crime. Leading up to his release, the Jamaica Observer presents a daily feature on what has transpired in that time with members of his family, friends and colleagues.

ONE month after his arrest on drug-related charges, Buju Banton's management hired David Oskar Marcus, a Harvard-educated attorney, to represent him. He jumped into action instantly.

“Buju is innocent — plain and simple. He was set up from the jump by some evil people trying to take advantage of his trusting and honest character,” said Markus in January 2010.

Nearly 11 years later, the Miami-based Markus maintains that view. He told the Jamaica Observer this week that the case against his former client was an “enormous injustice”, adding that: “Even though this case ended quite some time ago, it sticks with me and I still lose sleep over it.”

In August 2012, Buju and Markus parted ways. The Grammy winner acquired the services of well-known civil rights attorney Chokwe Lumumba to replace him.

Markus said he was aware of Buju Banton at the time of his arrest and described himself as a “casual fan”. The artiste's Gargamel management approached him because of his expertise in a particular area.

“He was looking for a trial lawyer and not someone who was interested in pleading or snitching him out. Most federal lawyers are snitch lawyers and many advised him to do just that, but he was innocent and wanted to fight, so we immediately hit it off because I told him not to plead to something he didn't do,” Markus recalled.

Banton's September 2010 trial in Tampa, Florida, ended in a hung jury. Five months later in a second trial, he was found guilty of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute five or more kilograms of cocaine, possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking offence and using communication wires to facilitate a drug-trafficking offense.

He was found not guilty on the charge of attempted possession of five kilograms or more of cocaine.

Markus believes the second trial was seriously compromised due to juror misconduct.

“The second jury started out 9-3 in favour of acquittal, but because of serious juror misconduct it ended in conviction. This was so wrong. Since his trials, we have won many cases, including cases much more difficult. Last year alone we won three federal trials and two appeals, but this case still sticks with all of us,” he said.

According to Markus, it was after juror delinquency was revealed that Buju Banton's team decided on a new lawyer. He said his Markus Law office continued to assist the singjay's case and they stay in touch.

David Oscar Markus stressed that Buju Banton faced major odds against the United States justice system.

“Over 97 per cent of people charged in federal court plead guilty. Of the three per cent that go to trial, a huge percentage are convicted, so on a pure numbers basis, Buju faced long odds,” he reasoned. “That said, we believed we had a very strong case. He never received one penny from any drug deal and was not even present when the drug deal occurred. He was set up by a very bad man who was looking for another payday. This was a case about a con artist setting up a recording artiste. Had there not been juror misconduct, we would have won.”

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