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Development in drug case disrupts Buju's studies

BY KARYL WALKER Crime/court editor walkerk@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, January 09, 2013    

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AN effort by reggae icon Buju Banton to acquire higher education while serving his 10-year prison sentence has been postponed due to the latest development in his case.

Minutes after he was sentenced in the US Sam Gibbons Court in Tampa, Florida last year, Banton told the Jamaica Observer that he planned to pursue a first and masters degree in political science and economics.

However, attorney Kwame Lumumba told the Observer last week that Banton — whose real name is Mark Myrie — had been pursuing higher education but that his studies have been disrupted by his transfer from the Federal Correctional Institution — a low-security prison in Miami — to Pinellas County Jail in Tampa.

"He was, in fact, pursuing his education but that has been put on hold since he is now in a Tampa jail awaiting the outcome of this latest development," Lumumba said.

Banton had been attending classes during the 18 months before he was sentenced and said he had passed an acceptance test in 2011.

Inmates serving time in federal institutions are allowed to pursue higher education as part of the US penal system's rehabilitation efforts.

A study by the Graduate Centre of the City University of New York has shown that inmates who take college classes while in prison are four times more likely to stay out of trouble when they are released. The research revealed that only 7.7 per cent of inmates who took college courses returned to prison, compared to 29.9 per cent of those who did not. It was also revealed that college prison programmes save US taxpayers about US$900,000 per 100 students every two years.

Banton was handed a lifeline after a female juror revealed to the Florida media that she had disobeyed Judge James Moody's orders that the jury should not study any aspect of the case before them.

The juror, Teri Wright, reportedly said she had studied aspects of the Pinkerton Law, which was used by federal prosecutors to link Banton to an illegal gun that was found in the possession of co-conspirator James Mack when he was held along with Ian Thomas attempting to purchase drugs from Drug Enforcement Agents in a Government-controlled warehouse in Tampa.

Wright subsequently denied studying the law and claimed she only looked up Banton's music.

However, her claims were shot down by Lumumba who produced a tape of the conversation during an evidentiary hearing in October last year.

Last Friday, Moody announced that he was expanding his probe into the allegations of misconduct and ordered US marshals to seize Wright's computer to allow forensic experts to scour for evidence that she did, in fact, research the law.

However, the Tampa Bay Times reported yesterday that Judge Moody has rescinded the order — following privacy concerns raised by the prosecutor — and requested that Wright only takes "the hard drive of any computer she

Wright can be slapped with contempt charges and fined if she is found guilty.

In addition, a male juror who was called to give evidence said he recalled a conversation on the same topic between a female juror and two male jurors inside the jury room before the guilty verdict was arrived at.

Banton's attorneys intend to argue that the juror misconduct negatively impacted the outcome of the case and was a breach of their client's right to a fair trial.

Banton is facing an additional five years' incarceration after a Georgia Appellate Court threw out his appeal to have his sentence overturned and ruled that he should be sentenced for using the firearm in furtherance of a drug offence.

However, that sentence was stayed after Moody decided to allow a motion filed by Lumumba in relation to the juror misconduct.

Banton was sentenced after going through two trials and may get a reduced sentence or another trial if his attorneys' motion is successful.

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