TAMPA, Florida — AFTER a lengthy delay, the much - anticipated cocaine trial of jailed Jamaican reggae superstar Buju Banton is set to kick off in a Florida, USA, court today.
Fans of the reggae giant have been waiting anxiously for this moment, while all along expressing support for Banton (Mark Myrie), who is contending that he was set up by US officials.
Banton, too, has been anxiously awaiting this moment since his arrest last December at his Tamarac, South Florida, home, accused of conspiracy to possess more than five kilograms of cocaine with intent to distribute.
But the four-time grammy nominee will face an uphill battle as his two co-accused, James Mack and Ian Thomas, signed a plea bargain deal with the United States District Attorney, agreeing to testify against the dreadlocked reggae singer.
Still Banton's lawyer, David Oscar Marcus, has expressed confidence in a victory, when the matter comes up for trial in the Middle District Court in Tampa, while pouring cold water on the significance of the plea deal.
"This is a federal court and we are as confident as you can be in a federal court," Marcus told the Observer last week shortly after it became public that Mack had signed a plea deal. "Buju is innocent and we are hoping the jury will see through the Government's charade."
Mack's deal came five days after Thomas also agreed to give evidence against Banton.
Banton was taken into custody after Thomas and Mack were arrested during an alleged drug bust in an undercover operation at a warehouse in Sarasota, Florida.
All three were charged with conspiracy to possess more than five kilograms of cocaine with intent to distribute. In addition, Mack was slapped with a count of possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking offence.
If found guilty, Banton could be sentenced to a minimum of 20 years to life in addition to a fine of up to US$4 million.
Both Mack and Thomas, in their plea deals, have agreed to give evidence to assist the US Government in building a case against Banton, in exchange for lesser sentences.
But Banton has maintained his innocence and insists that he was entrapped. Markus intends to argue that the US Government paid an informant US$35,000 to snare his client.
On Saturday, several fans expressed mixed views on his arrest, saying that he had made a wrong move but voiced support for him.
"I miss his music. I think he made a big mistake but I still support him," said Tampa resident Kenyo Rose, 34. "We are all human."