TAMPA, Fla. — Grammy-winning reggae singer Buju Banton was convicted Tuesday of conspiring to set up a cocaine deal in 2009, a verdict that elicited anguish and disbelief among supporters in a crowded courtroom and from other artists in his native Jamaica.
A federal jury deliberated for 11 hours over two days on the fate of Banton, who won a Grammy last week for best reggae album for his work entitled "Before the Dawn." He was found guilty of three of four charges, and his attorney said he's facing at least 15 years in prison.
The 37-year-old Banton, whose given name is Mark Myrie, remains wildly popular in Jamaica, and the trial – his second over the drug accusations – was packed with supporters that included other well-known reggae artists. The first trial ended in a mistrial last year after the jury deadlocked.
The tall, dreadlocked singer didn't react when a clerk read the verdict on Tuesday. He stood, hugged his attorneys, then turned around and blew kisses to his supporters in the courtroom and told them: "Thank you." A woman yelled out "We love you, Buju!" as U.S. marshals led him away.
"Obviously we are all upset and disappointed and emotional," said Banton's attorney, David Markus of Miami. "The only person who seems to be OK is Buju. He told us he was happy that he fought, knowing he was innocent."
Markus said he plans to appeal the conviction and will file a motion to try to get Banton out of jail on bond in the meantime.
Banton was found guilty of conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute cocaine, possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense and using a telephone to facilitate a drug trafficking offense. He was acquitted of attempted possession with the intent to distribute cocaine.
No date has been set for his sentencing.
Assistant U.S. Attorney James Preston argued during trial that Banton portrayed himself as a broker of drug deals in several conversations with a confidential informant. 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.