Judge Dismisses Gun Charge Against Buju Banton
Terri Wright will forever regret granting an exclusive interview to Chris Sweeney, a former New Times staff writer who wrote about her questionable conduct as a jury forewoman during the 2011 drug trafficking and gun trial of reggae megastar Buju Banton. Earlier today, Tampa federal judge James S. Moody Jr. threw out the gun charge and told federal prosectors to bring a criminal contempt charge against Wright after concluding she lied about telling Sweeney that she had researched Banton and case law during the trial, which she and her fellow jurors were prohibited from doing.
However, it was not the victory Banton's defense team wanted. They had asked Moody to throw out the drug trafficking charges and order a new trial for the Grammy winning musician. "I thought he should have thrown out the whole case," Banton's appeal attorney Chokwe Lumumba told the Tampa Bay Times. "If we can't believe her on the Pinkerton issue, we can't believe her on anything else."
Sweeney wrote about Wright in the October 12, 2012 issues of Miami and Broward editions of New Times. From his story:
Wright says she researched certain aspects of the case online during the trial to have a better grasp of them when deliberation came around. "I would get in the car, just write my notes down so I could remember, and I would come home and do the research," she says..."They give you the instructions not to go online and, you know, make an opinion. I tried to follow that as close as possible," Wright says, followed by a laugh. "I don't think what I found out would have changed how I thought."
The article prompted Lumumba to request a hearing to determine if Wright indeed had broken the jury's instructions. During a December hearing before Moody, she insisted that Sweeney had misquoted her and that she had conducted her research after the verdict and the case was over. The judge didn't buy her story and ordered her to bring in her computer at a subsequent hearing in February.
That's when Wright sealed her fate. She gave the court the incorrect computer hard drive for a forensic examination, Moody decided, after hearing the facts. The judge's finding contradicted Wright's assertion, under oath, that it was the correct hard drive.
A computer forensics expert, Larry Daniel, testified that the drive came from a desktop computer that sat idle from May 2010 to June 2011, a time frame that included the trial and its aftermath. The expert found no Internet history during that 13-month span, nor any evidence that the hard drive had been altered.
Moody found cause to believe Wright researched a legal theory called the Pinkerton rule, which allowed jurors to also hold Banton -- whose real name is Mark Myrie -- liable for a gun carried by conspirator James Mack. The singer got an additional five years on top of the 10 year sentence for trafficking cocaine.
However the judge said it was difficult to explore the impact that juror Wright's input might have had on deliberations, lacking a hard drive that reflects Internet use. So he only threw out the gun charge, but did not touch the dope conviction.
As for Wright. Her problems are just beginning. She could face a fine and up to six months in prison if found guilty of contempt.
And she'll never serve on a jury again, one of her lifelong passions. When she met with Sweeney, Wright told him if she would be a professional juror if the law allowed it.
Follow Francisco Alvarado on Twitter: @thefrankness.