Broward News

Harvard Lawyer Steps Up for Buju Banton

UPDATE: Thanks to Charles Ogletree -- the Harvard law professor who stepped up on Banton's behalf -- the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta agreed to hear his case. The court has yet to schedule a date to hear the arguments.

Back in 2009, a series of boneheaded decisions landed Mark Anthony Myrie — known in patchouli-soaked dorm rooms and Caribbean dance halls as reggae star Buju Banton — in federal custody. He faced charges of conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute cocaine, and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking offense. Two trials later, Myrie is still in federal custody.

As New Times readers know, Banton's conviction was pretty bogus. First, federal prosecutors used a shady confidential informant to snare Banton — a move some characterized as entrapment. Buju's first trial was declared a mistrial, and at his second one, the jury foreperson was found to have committed misconduct. Buju has yet to get the justice he deserves.

Now, a big legal name has stepped up to champion Banton's case.

Charles Ogletree is a Harvard law professor who not only had Barack and Michelle Obama come through his classroom but also represented hip-hop badass Tupac Shakur when the artist was accused of sexual assault. Recently, Ogletree has worked as a regular TV commentator on law and politics.

Ogletree, who didn't respond to a call and email for comment, is also a big New Times reader, we're guessing. This month, he dropped a 55-page piece of legal knowledge on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals arguing that Buju needs a new trial, based on work done by our former reporter Chris Sweeney.

After his first trial ended in a hung jury, Buju was convicted on four charges in a February 2011 retrial. When Sweeney in 2012 reached out to the woman who had served as jury foreperson in the proceedings, Terri Wright, she admitted she had ignored the judge's orders and had used the internet to research the case during the trial. She also bragged to New Times that she was a "passionate" juror and lied about how many times she'd served on trials.

Wright later claimed she'd been misquoted. Sweeney had to travel to a Tampa federal courtroom with his recording of the interview to hold the former juror accountable.

In July 2013, Judge James Moody threw out one of Banton's charges based on Wright's conduct — but he didn't declare a mistrial.

"This was error," Ogletree argues in the new brief. "Wright's misconduct tainted the entire trial, and a new trial should be granted on all counts."

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Kyle Swenson
Contact: Kyle Swenson