The reggae star Buju Banton has been sentenced to 10 years in US prison for his role in a cocaine deal. His first trial on the charges ended last September in a mistrial, but in February he was convicted of conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute cocaine, possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offence, and using a telephone to facilitate a drug trafficking offence.
At Tampa federal court in Florida, Judge James S Moody gave Banton – real name Mark Myrie – the most lenient sentence permitted for the drugs charges. Judge Moody threw out the gun conviction, which would have extended the sentence by five years, accepting Banton was not carrying a gun and did not know his confederates were doing so. Allowing for time served and good behaviour, his attorney said he could be free in six years.
"The man is not dead. Don't call him a ghost," said 37-year-old Banton in a statement. "The days that lie ahead are filled with despair, but I have courage and grace and I'm hopeful, and that is sufficient to carry me through."
During the trial, prosecutor James Preston portrayed Banton as a self-assured drug broker, offering as evidence several video and audiotapes made by an informant – including footage of Banton tasting cocaine at a Florida warehouse in 2009. But the singer was not present at the actual drug deal at the centre of the case, and Preston insisted Banton was just a "big talker". Dozens of supporters wrote letters to the court, including major reggae artists, a Jamaican government official, several of Banton's 15 children, and actor Danny Glover, who called Banton a "role model, philanthropist and spiritual leader in the community".
Banton's defence team said they plan to appeal. "This fight is not over," said attorney David Markus. "We will keep fighting for him. [Banton] is my brother, and I'm going to keep fighting until they tell me to stop."
A major reggae star for two decades, Banton became notorious for homophobic lyrics. Despite reports in 2007 that he had signed a pledge to stop performing homophobic music, Banton's management has denied any such agreement. Banton blamed Jamaica's rife homophobia for the tone of his lyrics, saying he could be seen by his Jamaican fans to be seen as sympathetic to gay rights. "Let's face the reality," he said in 2009. "Whatever is said in a positive light can't get out."
Banton won a Grammy award for best reggae album for his 2009 album Rasta Got Soul.
Guardian.co.uk 24th June 2011
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Buju Banton sentenced to 10 years in prison for cocaine trafficking