- A federal judge has ruled that jurors in Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman’s federal trial will have their identities hidden.
- Prosecutors argued this was necessary for their safety, though Guzman’s defence said such measures would be prejudicial against their client.
- Guzman has been held in solitary confinement in New York since being extradited to the US in January 2017.
After determining there was “more than sufficient evidence to warrant an anonymous and partially sequestered jury,” a federal judge in Brooklyn ruled this week that the jurors selected for the trial of Mexican cartel chief Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman will have their identities kept secret and their movements overseen by US Marshals.
Judge Brian Cogan said the government had “presented strong and credible reasons” in favour of protective measures for jurors, ruling that their names, addresses, and places of employment would be withheld from Guzman, his lawyers, and the press. Jurors will also be transported to and from the courthouse by US Marshals and sequestered from the public while there.
Guzman’s defence team opposed the measures, arguing that imposing them would undermine his presumption of innocence and “create an unfair impression” that he is dangerous.
Cogan wrote that Guzman’s connections to past violence – “done at his direction or on his behalf” – were sufficient for such measures and “that many of the allegations involve murder, assault, kidnapping, or torture of potential witnesses or those suspected of assisting law enforcement” made the prosecution’s concerns “particularly salient.”
Cogan said that the significant media coverage the trial was sure to attract raised the chances jurors’ identities would be revealed, opening them to harassment.
“Mr. Guzman is obviously disappointed by the decision,” Guzman’s lawyer, Eduardo Balarezo, told Reuters on Tuesday. “All he is asking for is a fair trial in front of an impartial jury.” Balarezo had said in court papers that keeping jurors’ identities from the public and press would be a “fair compromise.”
Guzman was suddenly extradited to the US in January 2017, after months of legal wrangling in Mexico. His trial is set to begin in September and will likely last several months.
The 17-count indictment filed against him in the Eastern District of New York includes a litany of drug-related charges and alleges that Guzman led a “continuing criminal enterprise” that imported and distributed massive amounts of narcotics to the US and conspired to murder people who posed a threat to the operation. Guzman has pleaded not guilty.
Guzman has been held in solitary confinement at a high-security facility in lower Manhattan since arriving in the US. Officials have successfully argued that those measures are necessary because of Guzman’s history of prison escapes in Mexico and because of his past use of extensive criminal connections to run the Sinaloa cartel, one of the most powerful criminal groups in Mexico, from behind bars.
His defence team has lodged numerous complaints about the conditions he faces in the US, arguing they have caused Guzman both mental and physical distress, including breathing problems and auditory hallucinations. His lawyers have compared the conditions to torture, and Amnesty International has raised concerns about his treatment.
“El Chapo, 63 years old, is ill. He is not incapacitated, but he is losing his memory and is getting paranoid,” Balarezo, who has been Guzman’s lawyer since September, told Spanish newspaper El Pais in January.
“He repeats a lot of things and forgets everything right away. At times we discuss something and after 15 minutes he has forgotten,” Balarezo said. “That affects the manner of working because we have a client who can’t tell if something happened, how it went, or went it happened.”
Balarezo added that Guzman, who has little formal schooling, was smart but not brilliant and had a good sense of humour.
Balarezo also defended Mexican cartel chief Alfredo Beltran Leyva, whose Beltran Leyva Organisation partnered with Guzman’s Sinaloa cartel before Beltran Leyva was arrested in the late 2000s. His arrest sparked a war between the two groups.
Beltran Leyva was extradited to the US in 2014, though Balrezo said he is not one of the numerous cartel figures who could testify against him or provide information about his criminal activities to prosecutors.
Cogan has dismissed complaints about the conditions Guzman faces in jail, saying in the latest filing that he had upheld the “special administrative measures … in part based on the risk that his communications or contacts with people outside the prison could result in harm to people cooperating with” the prosecution.
Prosecutors have cited, and Cogan mentioned, a YouTube video made last year by inmates at a privately owned prison in California in which they pledged loyalty to Guzman, saying they were “the hit men who are going to take care of him.”
Guzman’s defence team has dismissed that video, calling any reference to it in Guzman’s proceedings “nothing short of a bad joke.”
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