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Thursday, Apr 27, 2017
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Buju Banton attorneys cite juror misconduct in request for new trial

TAMPA - Buju Banton wants to reduce his prison sentence, but the only way may be to admit he's guilty of drug charges and give the government a detailed accounting of what he did. That would be an about-face for the Grammy-winning reggae singer since he continues to insist he is innocent. Banton is serving 10 years in federal prison and is likely to receive an additional five years after an appeals court reinstated a weapons offense dismissed by the trial judge. Meanwhile, citing possible juror misconduct, Banton's new attorney is seeking another trial.
Banton, whose real name is Mark Myrie, was to be resentenced Tuesday on the weapons offense, but U.S. District Judge James Moody agreed to postpone the hearing while he decides what to do about a juror who is said to have told a journalist she did independent research into the case despite the judge's orders not to. The juror, Terri Wright, was quoted in the Miami New Times telling reporter Chris Sweeney that she researched parts of the case to have a better grasp during deliberations. "I would get in the car, just write my notes down so I could remember, and I would come home and do the research," Wright is quoted as saying. Arguing that Wright's research may have had an effect on jury deliberations, defense attorneys Imhotep Alkebu-Ian and Chokwe Lumumba are asking Moody to grant a new trial. Ordinarily, rules prohibit attorneys from contacting jurors, but Lumumba on Tuesday asked for permission to do a full investigation, including interviewing jurors. After that, Lumumba said, the court should convene a hearing into the matter. Assistant U.S. Attorney James Preston suggested a hearing at which the court and attorneys could question jurors. Moody said he would research his options but his initial thought was he would hold a hearing. After the juror issue is resolved, the judge said, he will know whether to consider the defense motion for a new sentence. But the judge told Lumumba that the 10-year drug sentence is the minimum mandatory penalty under the law. Moody said he is powerless to reduce the sentence unless Banton qualifies for what is known as a "safety valve" — a provision in federal law that allows some offenders to avoid minimum mandatory sentences if they meet certain requirements. Moody said Banton's problem is meeting a requirement to provide full and complete disclosure to the government about his crimes. "He hasn't done that yet," the judge told Lumumba. Lumumba noted that Banton's former defense attorney wrote a letter to the court maintaining that Banton did provide full disclosure during his trial testimony. The singer testified he was a big talker but had no actual involvement in drug trafficking. "I do not accept that," the judge said. "That was not disclosure." In June, a federal appeals court in Atlanta upheld the Jamaican singer's 2011 conviction on cocaine conspiracy and trafficking charges. The three-judge panel also sided with a Tampa jury's conviction of Banton on a gun possession charge, which Moody dismissed at his sentencing on the grounds the singer did not have a gun during the crime and could not have known another conspirator had the weapon. The appeals court ruled that there was sufficient evidence to convict the singer on the gun charge. Banton's trial in February actually was his second. A previous trial on the same charges ended in a mistrial last year when jurors deadlocked. The February verdict came days after the Jamaica-born reggae star won a Grammy award for his album "Before the Dawn."

esilvestrini@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7837 Twitter: @ElaineTBO
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