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Judge orders search of juror's computer drive in Buju Banton case

Published Feb. 20, 2013

TAMPA — A juror accused of conducting improper research during the 2011 federal drug trial of reggae star Buju Banton will have her computer hard drive searched by a defense expert, a judge ruled Tuesday.

U.S. District Court Judge James Moody said at a hearing that he would issue an order prohibiting the expert from releasing to attorneys any information unrelated to the allegation that the juror conducted Internet research about Banton's case.

The juror, Moody said, "is entitled to safeguards."

Moody did so after the juror's attorney raised privacy concerns, noting that the juror's tax returns and her son's college applications also are on the hard drive.

The juror, Terri Wright of Tampa, told a reporter for the Miami New Times in an interview last year that she conducted research about the case during Banton's trial. That would have violated a judge's instructions.

Wright is quoted in the article as saying, "I would get in the car, just write my notes down so I could remember, and I would come home and do the research."

That, Banton's attorneys argue, is grounds to throw out his conviction and grant a new trial.

But Wright, forewoman of the jury that convicted Banton, has testified that the reporter misunderstood her and that the research took place after the trial's conclusion. A recording of the interview, played at a previous hearing, appeared to show Wright was quoted accurately.

Banton, 39, is serving a 10-year prison sentence after jurors convicted him of trying to set up a deal to buy 11 pounds of cocaine. He faces an additional five years in prison when he is eventually resentenced after prosecutors successfully appealed Moody's dismissal of one charge.

Attorneys have questioned all members of Banton's jury, including eight during Tuesday's hearing. Of the 11 other jurors besides Wright, 10 said they heard nothing during the trial indicating one among them conducted improper research.

One juror said she heard someone discuss research, but she said the juror who did so was a white woman. Wright is black.

Wright's attorney, Lori Palmieri, objected to Wright's hard drive being searched at all. Palmieri said there was no evidence Wright violated Moody's instructions.

And Palmieri said that even if the hard drive examination reveals a computer search about Banton, it won't show who conducted the search. The attorney noted the computer also is used by Wright's husband and 16-year-old son.

In January, Moody took the rare step of ordering a U.S. marshal to seize Wright's computer after defense attorneys referred to the Miami New Times story and asked for a new trial. Moody rescinded the order after prosecutor James Preston raised due process and privacy concerns.

The judge instead told Wright to bring the hard drive to court for Tuesday's hearing and allowed Wright to have an attorney represent her interests.

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