TAMPA — Stephen Marley, son of reggae legend Bob Marley, took the stand as a character witness for Buju Banton on Wednesday, calling the acclaimed singer "the voice of the people'' who never talked about drugs.
Banton, whose real name is Mark Myrie, is on trial in federal court in Tampa on drug conspiracy charges. Both grew up in Jamaica and have collaborated on music. Marley said he has known Banton for 20 years.
Defense attorney David Markus asked Marley whether he ever heard Banton discuss drugs.
"No, no," Marley said. "Never."
Marley called Banton "the voice of Jamaica," noting that his music is ingrained in the nation's culture.
"That sums it up," he said. "What Banton means to us. He is the voice of the people."
Banton has earned four Grammy nominations since his debut album in 1992. He is considered one of reggae's elite stars, with his 1995 album Til Shiloe garnering a spot among Rolling Stone's "Essential Recordings of the '90s."
Prosecutors say they have video and audio of the musician discussing the ins and outs of drug smuggling with an informer and asking the informer to help him in other illegal endeavors.
Banton's trial started Monday after months of delays. The informer, Alexander Johnson, is expected to testify. Prosecutors said they also have video of Banton tasting cocaine during a drug deal.
Markus said Banton plans to testify.