The trial of Joaquin Guzman Loera — better known as “El Chapo,” a drug lord infamous for escaping a Mexican prison via tunnel in 2015 — kicks off Tuesday in Brooklyn and is expected to last four months.
Guzman, 61, faces a 17-count indictment on charges including drug trafficking and murder conspiracy that could land him behind bars for life if he’s convicted of each one, reported NBC News. Guzman won’t face the death penalty as part of an extradition agreement the U.S. made with Mexico.
Although the U.S. Treasury Department has called him the most “powerful drug trafficker in the world” for his role in distributing cocaine, marijuana, heroin, methamphetamine and more, Guzman’s defense team will likely paint him as a pawn whose power in the Mexican Sinaloa Cartel has been exaggerated, reported NBC News.
Federal prosecutors will argue their evidence hasn’t been exaggerated. Guzman is accused of trafficking over 440,000 pounds of cocaine, is the subject of 100,000 audio recordings the feds plan to use against him and might have $14 billion in assets seized by U.S. officials, reported NBC News. (RELATED: El Chapo Makes A Strange Request For The Judge Ahead Of Trial)
Safety Concerns Amid A ‘Huge’ Trial
“What makes it huge is the defendant,” ex-Brooklyn federal prosecutor and ex-Drug Enforcement Agency official Jodi Avergun said, according to NBC News. “He’s the most high ranking drug lord ever brought to trial in the United States.”
Guzman has a reputation as an escape artist, having slipped out of two Mexican prisons. He escaped one prison in 2001 by hiding in a laundry cart. His most notorious prison escape came in 2015 when he spent an estimated several million dollars to have a mile-long secret tunnel constructed, reported NBC News.
Perhaps that’s why the judge in his upcoming trial reportedly denied Guzman’s request to hug his own wife, Emma Coronel Aispuro, in the courtroom before the trial in case any funny business went down.
Guzman has been held in solitary confinement in downtown Manhattan’s super-secure Metropolitan Correctional Center since he was extradited in January 2017, reported The Wall Street Journal.
But while the trial is going on in Brooklyn on weekdays, he’ll be held at an unknown location within the borough.
The jury deciding Guzman’s fate will also have huge levels of protection including federal marshals who will escort them to and from the courthouse each day. The jurors are anonymous and most said they already knew about “El Chapo” from the news and television specials, reported TheWSJ.
What Is Guzman Accused Of?
The charges against Guzman include incidents from a 25-year span, reported NBC News. Prosecutors are expected to hone in on a 2006 incident with two rival cartel members that’s detailed in court filings, according to NBC News.
Guzman had his rivals “beaten and then personally shot them both in the head with a long gun. The defendant then ordered his workers to dig a hole in the ground, light a fire inside the hole, and throw the bodies in the hole to be burned and subsequently buried,” according to court filings cited by NBC News.
Court filings also accuse Guzman of using hitmen to expand his power through assaults, kidnappings, killings and torture, according to court filings cited by NBC News.
El Chapo’s violent but dramatic story has attracted the attention of celebrities including actor Sean Penn, who interviewed him for “Rolling Stone” in 2015, and Mexican actress Kate del Castillo, who owns the rights to his life story for silver or small screen adaptation.
Who Is Defending Guzman?
The leader of Guzman’s defense team, A. Eduardo Balarezo, is “experienced in drug-trafficking and mob cases,” reported TheWSJ. But another of Guzman’s attorneys, Jeffrey Lichtman, might grab attention for his previous work for famous defendants including mob boss John Gotti Jr. and rapper The Game.
Guzman hired New York-based attorney Lichtman in August 2017. Lichtman is known for getting Gotti acquitted of several counts including securities fraud and kidnapping.
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