By Jennifer Kay | Associated Press

Reggae singer known for anti-gay lyrics could face life in prison if he is convicted on cocaine charges

MIAMI — Grammy-nominated Jamaican reggae star Buju Banton will fight a drug charge against him in Tampa instead of Miami.

Banton waived his bail hearing Wednesday, Dec. 16 in Miami federal court. His case is being prosecuted in Tampa, where he will be transferred.

U.S. Magistrate Judge William Turnoff issued a temporary order of detention for the 36-year-old singer, whose real name is Mark Anthony Myrie.

Banton did not speak at the hearing, except to reply, "Yes, sir," to the judge’s questions. Like the other 10 jail inmates waiting in the courtroom, he wore a beige jail jumpsuit over a white T-shirt, with his long dreadlocks tied up off his neck and his hands shackled in front of him.

"He believes that because the indictment was filed out of Tampa, that’s where the case should be defended," Banton’s attorney, Herbert E. Walker III, said after the hearing.

Banton has been in federal custody since last Thursday. He and two others are charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine.

Walker said the charge carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
A grand jury indictment also charges Banton and the others with carrying a firearm during the course of a drug trafficking crime.

According to a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration affidavit, Banton and two others traveled to Sarasota last week to purchase a large amount of cocaine from an undercover law enforcement officer. The DEA was tipped off by a confidential informant who agreed to wear a recording device during the drug negotiation session.

Banton’s attorney said the singer is "completely innocent" of the charges against him.

"He’s a very spiritual person," Walker said. "He has a lot of faith in God. He’s confident he’s going to be exonerated."

The husky-voiced Banton has been a major star in his native Jamaica since the early 1990s with brash dancehall music and, more recently, a traditional reggae sound. His career has been stunted in the United States because of some song lyrics that advocated violence against gay men.

His concert at House of Blues in Dallas was cancelled this year following protests about his anti-gay lyrics, but was later rescheduled at, Palm Beach Club, a much smaller venue in Deep Ellum that has since been renamed Trincity. Local activists protested outside the club during the concert.

Earlier this month, Banton’s ninth album, "Rasta Got Soul," was nominated for a Grammy for best reggae album. The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation launched an online petition protesting the nomination.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 18, 2009.
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