TAMPA, Fla. A Florida judge declared a mistrial Monday in the drug case against four-time Grammy winning reggae singer Buju Banton. The jury, which was deliberating since Thursday, had sent a second note to the judge claiming they were unable to reach a unanimous verdict.
Banton was charged with conspiracy to possess and distribute cocaine and aiding two others in possessing a firearm during the course of cocaine distribution. Prosecutors say Banton conspired to buy cocaine from an undercover police officer last year. He faced life in prison if convicted.
Banton’s attorneys have asked that the reggae singer be released on bond. Banton has been held without bond since his December, 2009 arrest.
Banton’s attorney maintains that the singer was entrapped by a government informant.
The jury had sent a note earlier Monday saying they could not agree on a verdict, but U.S. District Judge James Moody ordered them to continue deliberations. After the second note was sent Moody ruled in favor of the defense motion to declare a mistrial.
The trial ignited a lot of debate in Baton’s home country Jamaica, with fans and critics dissecting every detail of the case in editorial pages and on social networking sites, with his most ardent fans comparing him to the reggae legend Bob Marley.
“I’ve been following it close because Buju is big in Jamaica, like a Bob Marley,” Charles Barrett, a resident of the capital, said Sunday. “Way I see it, they need to free the man cause they don’t have any concrete evidence against him.”
There have even been a few conspiracy theories from fans as to how the Rasta star came to be in this predicament. Some say the U.S government framed him, others point to gay rights advocate groups who have actively protested many of Banton’s appearances because of violent, homophobic lyrics from early in Banton’s career as a brash dancehall singer.
Shows in several U.S. cities were canceled because of protests over those early lyrics and his unapologetic anti-gay stance through the years.
The reason for such fierce debate lies in the cultural influence that many say Banton has had on the music scene in Jamaica. According to musicologist and disc jockey Bunny Goodison, “[Banton has] been extremely important through the years because he’s represented Rastafari and black consciousness in a very focused way.”
Others are more critical of Banton, whose real name is Mark Myrie. “No matter how the trial turns out, Mr. Myrie has already let down himself and his fans,” the Jamaica Observer said in an editorial Sunday.
A new trial date is expected to be announced later Monday.