Attorney says Buju Banton’s appeal likely to fail

KINGSTON, Jamaica: A Miami-based lawyer who said he advised Buju Banton to take a plea deal soon after his arrest on cocaine charges in 2009, says it’s unlikely that the singer will succeed in an appeal against his conviction.

Professor David Rowe, in an interview on Radio Jamaica Tuesday, suggested that Banton should have accepted a plea bargain because of the evidence that had been gathered against him.

The lawyer’s comments came after the 37-year-old singer was found guilty of conspiracy on Tuesday to possess with the intent to distribute more than 11 pounds of cocaine; attempted possession with the intent to distribute cocaine and using a communication facility to facilitate a drug-trafficking offence. The jurors, who returned with their decision on day two of deliberations, found him not guilty of possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking offence.

Banton, whose real name is Mark Myrie, faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison. His attorney, David Markus, has indicated that an appeal will be filed, as well as a request for bail pending a hearing.

However, Professor Rowe said on the night of Banton’s arrest – December 10, 2009 – he recommended that the singer not go to trial to avoid being hit with a heavy prison term.

“When I read the probable cause affidavit, I suggested that he immediately take a plea which would have probably resulted in a two or three year resolution to this case,” said Rowe. “But he elected not to do so, he elected to hire attorneys and run a very, very exotic defence of entrapment but the entrapment defense does not work in federal court.”

Banton’s friend, Ian Thomas, and another man, James Mack, both of whom were arrested when they tried to buy cocaine from an undercover detective the same day Banton was arrested, pleaded guilty to their charges and are now awaiting sentencing.

During the trial, the defense argued that government informant Alexander Johnson – who Banton first met on a flight from Madrid to Miami in the summer of 2009 – pressured the entertainer to enter a drug deal with him.

The prosecution produced audio of a series of conversations in which Banton was heard discussing buying and selling cocaine, as well as videotaped evidence of him tasting cocaine in a warehouse.

When Banton took the witness stand he dismissed the conversations as “just talk”. As for the video, he said he thought he was being taken to see a boat and when he realized Johnson was serious about dealing drugs, he feared for his life and decided to play it cool and go along with it.

After the 12-member jury, by virtue of the verdict, threw out Banton’s defense yesterday, the singer remained composed. He hugged his lawyer and blew a kiss at crying supporters in the courtroom before being taken into custody.

Banton later issued a brief written statement, which was read by his attorney: “Our life and our destiny are sometimes pre-destined and no matter where this journey takes me, remember, I fought the good fight. It was a great man that said my head is bloody but still unbowed. I love you all; thank you for your support.”

Banton’s trial began on February 14, a day after he won his first Grammy.

He was previously tried for the offences, but the case ended in a mistrial after jurors were unable to reach a unanimous verdict.

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