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Buju again appeals drug conviction

BY KARYL WALKER Editor Crime/Court Desk walkerk@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, February 20, 2014    

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INCARCERATED reggae star Buju Banton has filed yet another appeal in the United States to reverse his conviction on drug charges.

The appeal by attorneys Professor Charles Ogletree, Jack Cushman and Max Stern was filed with the 11th US Circuit Court on February 4.

Ogletree, who is the head of the law department at Harvard University, said he accepted the offer to represent Banton -- whose real name is Mark Myrie -- because it was clear that he did not receive a fair trial.

"There is no way in the world he received a fair trial," Ogletree told the Jamaica Observer yesterday.

After two trials, Banton was sentenced to 10 years in a Tampa, Florida, court for drug-related offences. However, information later emerged that jury foreman Teri Wright had defied an order from Judge Tim Moody and had studied aspects of the Pinkerton Law and Banton's music.

The Pinkerton Law was used by the prosecution to convict Banton for using a telephone to facilitate a drug-trafficking offence.

The information came to light after Wright admitted her misconduct to a reporter. Wright was then ordered by the court to hand over a computer she had used to study the law, but instead handed over another computer. A computer forensics expert hired by Banton later proved that the hard drive on the computer had not been used for a number of years.

According to Ogletree, although the appeal had been filed, it would take months before the case is heard by the appellate court's judges.

"It's hard to tell; we have called for a continuance and the government will call for a continuance. However, I hope to get it before the court before the end of 2014," he said.

As an inmate in the care of the state, the federal Bureau of Prison can house Banton in any penal facility of their choice and Ogletree said a move was afoot to remove him from the low-security FCI Miami prison to another location.

"We have filed in the court to get him to stay in Miami," he said.

He said despite his travails, Myrie has remained upbeat and is looking forward to his appeal being heard.

"He is very positive. I speak to him every other day. He read the brief and is happy with it. He is glad that the truth is being told about him," he said.

Buju Banton was arrested in December 2009 at his Tamarac, Florida, home and charged with conspiracy to distribute five or more kilogrammes of cocaine. His arrest followed a sting operation at a Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA)-controlled warehouse in Tampa, which also resulted in the arrest of James Mack and Ian Thomas, who were attempting to purchase cocaine from undercover agents.

Banton has maintained his innocence and claimed he was entrapped by government informant Alexander Thomas, who hounded him for months to get involved in drug smuggling.

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