Closing arguments finish in 2nd Buju Banton trial

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TAMPA, FLA. (AP) - Closing arguments in the second drug trial of Grammy-winning reggae singer Buju Banton ended Thursday afternoon, setting the stage for jurors to deliberate on his fate.

The 37-year-old Banton is accused of conspiring with two other men in setting up a drug deal in December of 2009. His album “Before the Dawn” won a Grammy for best reggae album this week, and he remains wildly popular in his native Jamaica.

A jury deadlocked in his first trial last year. If convicted of all the charges, he faces up to life in prison.

Every seat in the federal courtroom in Tampa was filled as the lawyers gave their closing arguments. Many of the seats were taken by Banton’s friends and fans, including well-known reggae artists Gramps Morgan and Wayne Wonder. During the lunch break, about a dozen supporters held hands and prayed for Banton in the court hallway.

“I’m fighting for my freedom,” said Banton, whose given name is Mark Myrie. “I’m fighting for my life.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney James Preston told the jury on Thursday that Banton portrayed himself as a broker of drug deals in several conversations with a confidential informant.

“This is not about Buju Banton, the reggae singer,” Preston said. “This is about Mark Myrie, the drug defendant.”

Preston said Banton thought he was getting involved in a “no-risk” deal in which he would introduce a friend to a confidential informant, and then later collect money from drug transactions.

“The defendant saw this as a no-risk opportunity,” said Preston.

Much of the case hinges on meetings and phone calls that were video and audiotaped by the confidential informant, who was working with the Drug Enforcement Administration _ and who made $50,000 in commission after the bust.

In one video, Banton could be seen tasting cocaine in a Sarasota warehouse on Dec. 8, 2009 _ but he was not present during the actual drug deal on Dec. 10 that led two others to be arrested. Those two men later pleaded guilty.

Prosecutors acknowledge that Banton did not put any money into the drug deal, nor did he ever profit from it. Defense attorney David Markus said his client is “a big talker” who admitted to trying to impress the confidential informant but wasn’t involved in any drug deal.

“He tried to act cool,” said Markus.

Banton is charged with 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 offense; and using the wires to facilitate a drug trafficking offense.

The jury will begin deliberating on Friday morning.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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