- Security has been tightened for the trial of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, which starts in New York on Tuesday.
- Jurors and some former Sinaloa Cartel witnesses are anonymous and under an armed US Marshal escort.
- El Chapo faces a 17-count indictment on charges of shipping heroin, cocaine, marijuana, and methamphetamine to the US.
- Presiding District Judge Brian Cogan called the case at the Eastern District of New York federal court “unprecedented.”
Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman starts his “unprecedented” drug smuggling trial on Tuesday morning, and law enforcement have beefed up security for the famous jail-breaker.
The Sinaloa Cartel leader faces a lifetime in jail if convicted of the 17-count indictment at the Eastern District of New York federal court – an indictment that says he directed massive shipments of heroin, cocaine, marijuana, and methamphetamine to the US.
But his lawyers say that is unfair, with El Chapo promising in January not to kill any jurors involved in this case.
The 12 jurors will remain anonymous for the duration of the trial, and will be escorted to and from the Brooklyn court by armed US marshals, Reuters said.
Presiding Judge Brian M. Cogan dismissed 27 out of 60 potential jurors during jury-selection, most because they feared for their safety. But some had more bizarre reasons, like eating Chapo-themed bagels or impersonating Michael Jackson.
Cogan also banned courtroom sketch artists from drawing people who testify, Reuters reported, as this could help identify them.
Bomb-sniffing dogs will be outside the courthouse, and metal detectors will be inside, CNN reported.
Law enforcement is taking no chances with El Chapo, and every time he has been taken to the courthouse in Brooklyn from Manhattan, the Brooklyn Bridge has been under lockdown. It is not known whether this twice-daily lockdown, while the SWAT escort drives across, will continue during the trial.
Some former Sinaloa Cartel employees and leaders who allegedly played a hand in the drug smuggling enterprise are cooperating with the prosecution, Reuters reported, but they won’t be publicly named, and some may testify under aliases.
Those former associates known to be cooperating with the US government include Vicente Zambada and Pedro and Margarito Flores, one-time drug traffickers who secretly taped Guzman, according to Reuters.
The Sinaloa Cartel leader has been in solitary confinement at the Lower Manhattan Metropolitan Correctional Center since his extradition to the US from Mexico on January 19, 2017.
Cogan also denied the famous escape artist the chance to hug his wife before the trial as he thought El Chapo was up to something. El Chapo’s lawyers said the hug was necessary for his mental health.
Due to the level of public interest and El Chapo’s reputation as a Cartel leader, Cogan has called the case “unprecedented.”
Opening statements by prosecutors and defendants will be read at the Eastern District court in front of the judge at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, court records show, and the case could last for four months.
El Chapo pleaded not guilty in January 2017 to all counts.