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With health claims refuted, judge keeps reggae star Buju Banton in jail

A federal judge on Friday denied bond for reggae star Buju Banton, keeping him in the Pinellas County Jail.

Banton, born Mark Myrie, is being held on charges of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than 5 kilograms of cocaine, in a deal to buy drugs from undercover federal agents in Sarasota.

On Monday, his attorney, David Markus, filed an emergency motion in the Middle District of Florida court, citing health concerns for his client.

Last week, Banton, 36, was moved to a more secure unit in the jail as punishment for giving his food to another inmate.

The more secure unit does not have a microwave oven, which Banton had been using to prepare food from the commissary.

The Jamaican-born singer is a Rastafarian, a religion that places importance on a diet consisting mainly of fruits and vegetables. It was unclear whether Banton had requested special vegetarian meals from the jail.

In his motion, Markus said Banton had lost 40 pounds since being incarcerated and that his mental health was declining since being placed in the more secure unit in the jail.

In court Friday, prosecutors presented jail records that refuted Markus' claims about Banton's weight.

Banton weighed 150 pounds when he was booked on Jan. 5, according to testimony given by Capt. Mark Fletcher who had Banton's jail medical documents. When he was weighed again on March 22, the singer was 161 pounds, Fletcher testified.

Fletcher said his staff has begun serving Banton vegetarian meals.

Markus downplayed the jail records.

"Mr. Myrie has not gained weight," he said. "The man is much smaller and lighter."

Magistrate Judge Anthony E. Porcelli denied the bond request, but did enter an order that ensures Banton have access to his attorneys while remaining in the more secure unit.

Banton's trial is set to begin in mid-April.

Nicole Hutcheson can be reached at nhutcheson@sptimes.com or (813)226-3405.

With health claims refuted, judge keeps reggae star Buju Banton in jail 03/26/10 [Last modified: Friday, March 26, 2010 3:50pm]
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