Wednesday, October 10, 2012 at 5 a.m.
Terri Wright has been called to serve jury duty seven times. But none of the cases compares to the federal drug and gun trial of reggae singer Buju Banton. That one "took the cake," as she puts it. She still talks to coworkers about the murky back story of the federal snitch, Alex Johnson, and says she couldn't sleep at night when deliberating.
This week, New Times revealed that three jury members would have cleared Buju of a questionable gun charge had the jury instructions permitted them to do so.
Contacted on Tuesday evening, Wright, who lives in Tampa, is now the fourth member of the jury to come out against the firearm conviction.
Because later this month, on October 30, Buju is slated to be resentenced on the gun charge. It seems that Judge James Moody, who originally dismissed the gun count, has few options but to toss on another five years to the Buju's decadelong sentence.
That's because an Atlanta appeals court overturned Moody's seemingly sound judgment to dismiss the charge.
"When we found him guilty on the firearm, I was glad to hear that the judge had threw it out because [Buju] had no knowledge that there was a gun and stuff involved," Wright tells New Times.
She says that the juror instructions for the firearm charge were "a little confusing" and that as a whole, the jury agreed that Buju was not guilty of that specific count. "I'm still not sure if I fully understand how we got to say OK, guilty, with how it was explained to us. That [instruction] was the confusing one."
She says that if either codefendant, Ian Thomas or James Mack (who both copped plea deals) had testified, the outcome of the trial would likely have been vastly different.
When asked if she thinks justice was served, Wright says, "Yes and no. I went back and forth... That could have been my brother, my husband, my father, somebody that I know. We wanted to be fair."
Wright says there are many unanswered questions about the case, including how Alex Johnson, the informant, ended up on a first-class flight sitting next to Buju. It's a fair question given that Johnson isn't a U.S. citizen, has a lengthy felony record, and can't return to his homeland, Colombia, as he snitched on numerous coke dealers in the 1990s.
"How did he know Buju was on this flight and to single him out?" she asks. The government and Johnson maintain that it was coincidence. But Wright's not the only one out there questioning their narrative.