• US Judge widens probe into juror misconduct • Attorney says move a positive sign
KWAME Lumumba, the attorney representing incarcerated reggae artiste Buju Banton, says the decision by United States Magistrate James Moody to expand his probe into allegations of juror misconduct is a positive sign for his client.
Moody announced yesterday that he was expanding his probe into allegations that female juror Teri Wright had defied his orders not to research any laws related to the artiste's drug trial.
"The judge reserved his judgement and decided to expand the hearing as he needs more proof. We think that it was compelling that it was expanded and it gives us hope," Lumumba told the Jamaica Observer in a phone interview yesterday.
Meanwhile, Moody ordered US Marshalls to seize computers belonging to Wright to allow a forensic expert to search for evidence that she had researched the Pinkerton Law over the Internet.
The Pinkerton Law was used by the prosecution to connect Banton to an illegal firearm that was found in the possession of a co-conspirator, James Mack, during a cocaine transaction in a police-controlled warehouse in Tampa, Florida.
Banton faces an additional five-year sentence in relation to the firearm charge. However, that sentencing was stayed after Lumumba filed a motion for the evidentiary hearing.
Moody said he also plans to subpoena more jurors and conduct another hearing into the allegations. His latest ruling has given Banton's defence team hope that they may be able to secure a new trial for the Grammy award-winning reggae artiste.
Wright had allegedly told a reporter that she had in fact done the research during the trial, but later denied that she had done so after Moody had allowed the motion filed by Lumumba on Banton's behalf.
Lumumba told the Observer that during Banton's evidentiary hearing in October, Wright denied that she had told a reporter of her alleged misconduct, but a tape produced by the reporter of the phone conversation contradicted her statement.
"We had a tape that proved she did carry out misconduct. We called in three other jurors. They came in independently. One did recall that there was a conversation occurring in the jury room between a female and two male jurors with respect to the misconduct," he said.
Lumumba said he also has evidence that Wright e-mailed or texted the reporter who made the disclosure.
"On October 26 at 11:00 pm she texted the reporter and said he betrayed her and said she did not take it down during but after the trial. That was the same day the motion was filed," he said.
He said he intends to argue that the misconduct impacted upon the jury and could have negatively affected the outcome of the case.
Motions to have convictions overturned in the US are most times dismissed, according to statistics.
"Outside of the death penalty cases, it is in the 90 per cent region. It is good that he has extended his hearing, it gives us hope," the lawyer said.
Banton, whose real name is Mark Anthony Myrie, is currently serving a 10-year term after he was found guilty during a second trial in the Sam Gibbons US District Court in Tampa.
He is currently languishing in the Tampa County jail until his evidentiary hearing ends.