JAMAICAN reggae artiste Mark Myrie, better known by his stage name Buju Banton, will on February 14 — Valentine's Day — begin another battle for his freedom in a federal court in the United States where he will be retried on drug and gun-related charges.
The date was set yesterday by Judge James Moody for the highly anticipated second trial in the Sam M Gibbons Federal Court in Tampa, Florida.
"February 14 is Valentine's Day. We hope the jury gives us some love," said the entertainer's attorney David Markus, who expressed hope that his client would be acquitted.
Added Markus: "Buju is optimistic and hopeful. He is in good spirits. He is a rock. No one realises how hard it is to fight the federal government in one trial, let alone two."
Banton was last tried in September on charges of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine, and aiding and abetting the possession of a firearm during a drug-trafficking offence. However, the 12-member panel of jurors was unable to reach a verdict following three days of deliberations. That trial lasted a little over a week. The second trial is scheduled to last as long.
The trial was supposed to start last December but was postponed so Banton, who is on US$250,000 bail and is subjected to house arrest, could spend time with his family.
It is not yet known if Banton will be tried on the previous charges or the additional charges tacked on by the prosecution in a new indictment. The new indictment is being challenged by the entertainer's legal team, and both the prosecution and defence are awaiting a ruling on the matter.
Should the new indictment stand, Banton will be tried for conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute cocaine, attempted possession with the intent to distribute cocaine, possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking offence, and using the wires to facilitate a drug-trafficking offence.
If convicted, Banton faces up to 20 years' imprisonment. The United States Government would also seek to seize the artiste's assets.
Banton was arrested in December of 2009 following the arrests of two other men, Ian Thomas and James Mack, who subsequently pleaded guilty. The gun was actually in the car that Mack drove.