Joaquín Guzmán, known as “El Chapo,” is preparing to head to court for his trial, set for sometime in September. The Mexican drug lord, 60, was arrested on 17 counts, including numerous murders and kidnappings while we allegedly oversaw the multibillion-dollar international Sinaloa cartel.
His infamous reputation as an alleged murderer compelled federal prosecutors to request Brooklyn Federal Court Justice Brian M. Cogan, who’s overseeing the case, to take several precautions for Guzmán’s jurors, including anonymity and armed protection. But Guzmán’s attorneys are challenging the petition, arguing that ceding to such demands would bias the jurors against Guzmán. “Such an order would unduly burden Mr. Guzmán’s presumption of innocence, impair his ability to conduct meaningful voir dire (examination of potential jurors) and create the extremely unfair impression that he is a dangerous person from whom the jury must be protected,” Eduardo Balarezo, Guzmán’s lead attorney, wrote in a motion filed last week.
Balarezo proposed, instead, that the names of prospective jurors be withheld from the public and Guzmán, but disclosed to the attorneys.
No ruling on the motion has been announced yet.
Guzmán was captured in January 2016 after escaping from prison in Mexico twice in 2001 and 2015. According to federal prosecutors, Guzmán “hindered the judicial process twice by engineering and organizing his own escapes from prison, engaging in widespread corruption related to public officials, and hiring hit men to engage in acts of violence against rivals and suspected government cooperators.” The cartel magnate was captured in Mexico in 2016 and extradited to the United States in January 2017.
Last March, Guzmán’s legal teams said their client’s solitary confinement at the Metropolitan Correctional Complex in New York was taking a toll on him. “His meals are passed through a slot in the door; he eats alone,” they said in court documents. “The light is always on. With erratic air conditioning, he had often lacked enough warm clothing to avoid shivering.”
Despite pleas from his lawyers, U.S. District Judge Cogan would not relax the restrictive conditions of his confinement, other than to soften a ban on communicating with family members. As of last May, the drug kingpin is allowed to communicate with his wife via written correspondence vetted by federal authorities.