Admit says his only crime is ‘running off his mouth’


Yesterday Buju Banton took the witness stand in his cocaine trial and denied that he was a trafficker or a financier of any illicit drug activities.

He admitted two things: that he was naïve, and that he was only "talking crap" when he was recorded telling Government informant Alexander Johnson that he was a drug financier, who was in search of new drug ventures.

Like my mom always say, 'Mark, you talk a lot,' and that is the consequence of it," said the 37-year-old entertainer, whose given name is Mark Myrie, during cross-examination from prosecutor Jim Preston.

Banton said he was ashamed of himself for the things he had said, but told the attentive jurors that "talking crap" did not make him a dealer.

Banton had been eagerly awaiting this moment for the past several months following his arrest last December at his home in Florida. He was charged with conspiracy to distribute five kilogrammes of cocaine. If convicted, he could be sent to prison for life and fined several million dollars.

"Are you guilty of being a cocaine trafficker?" Markus wasted no time in asking.

"No, Sir, I'm not," Banton promptly responded as he went on to deny the charges against him.

"How do you feel?" Markus asked.

"I'm scared," Banton said, managing an awkward smile. "I'm nervous. I've been waiting 10 months."

He was, however, prevented from completing the statement due to an objection from lead prosecutor Jim Preston, which was sustained by Judge Jim Moody.

At Markus' prompting Banton proceeded to recall how he met Johnson on a flight from Madrid, Spain following a tour of the European continent in July 2009 and how he got to like Johnson's company.

He said he and Johnson spoke on a number of topics during the eight-hour flight to Florida, USA and that Johnson was the one who raised the issue of drugs after both men had had a few glasses of wine which Johnson ordered.

He said both men spoke about the entertainment business and Johnson told him that he had contacts within the industry.

Banton testified that before the argument of drugs came up, Johnson had told him that he had a seafood business but that he did "a little thing on the side", which the entertainer took to mean that the "side" enterprise may have been illegal. Banton said his suspicion was further heightened when Johnson pulled a wad of cash from his pocket and showed it to him.

Nonetheless, Banton said he was having a good time talking with Johnson and that he found him quite affable.

"He was a funny guy," said the entertainer with a smile.

Banton testified that he gave his number to Johnson, who gave his name as Junior, and that he received a call from him the following day, saying that he wanted to meet the next day, which they did at a restaurant.

He said he had no idea that Johnson had invited him to the restaurant to talk about drugs, and that he had left the restaurant and was meeting outside with his realtor when Johnson approached him and asked if he had talked to his friend about the cocaine venture.

Asked by his attorney about his drug discussions with Johnson, Banton said that he was just yapping to impress Johnson and that he was not a drug dealer and was not interested in making any drug deal.

"I was talking garbage. I was just talking straight up garbage! He was trying out-talk me," Banton said, a line he would maintain throughout his close to two hours in the witness box. "I was trying to impress him."

"I'm just a humble musician. I was just talking above my head. I was trying to impress this guy and that's what got me into this hot seat," the entertainer said in a contrite tone.

Johnson had been working undercover for the us Government since 1996, following his conviction on drug-trafficking charges. He has, over a three-year period, made US$3 million as a Government informant.

Also yesterday, Reggae artiste Stephen Marley, the son of late Reggae icon Bob Marley testified on Banton's behalf. He said he had been friends with Banton for more 19 years and did not know him to be a drug dealer.