Prosecutors handling the case of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán have warned a federal judge that a new podcast from VICE News about the Sinaloa cartel leader may cause problems selecting an impartial jury if the trial is postponed beyond the scheduled start date of Nov. 5.
In a last-ditch effort to delay the high-stakes trial, El Chapo’s lawyers asked Judge Brian Cogan last week for additional time to review the massive amount of evidence that the government has handed over. Prosecutors responded by arguing the defense has already had months to prepare — and that our podcast and other media attention could “taint the jury pool and derail the jury selection process.”
The government’s court filing (embedded below) quotes liberally from our post last week about the upcoming release of "Chapo: Kingpin on Trial," an eight-episode podcast set to debut Nov. 1.
It says we will “journey across Mexico and the U.S. to meet people affected by El Chapo and the drug war,” including drug traffickers, cartel hitmen, “families shattered by violence, ordinary citizens caught between drug cartels and the Mexican military,” the ex-DEA agent who led the effort to capture El Chapo in 2014, and former Mexican President Felipé Calderón. Prosecutors also noted that “troublingly,” we have interviewed members of El Chapo’s defense team.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, where El Chapo is being prosecuted, declined to comment on the filing, which was submitted to the judge on Sunday. They also declined our request to be interviewed for the podcast.
El Chapo’s attorney Eduardo Balarezo declined to comment on the government’s filing, but in a response submitted to the court on Monday he said his client is asking “simply to be able to defend himself and to have a fair trial.”
Balarezo told Judge Cogan that the defense is struggling to review over 14,000 documents that handed over by the government in the last month — all statements from cooperating witnesses who will testify against El Chapo. He added that prosecutors also disclosed 17 murder victims who were allegedly killed by El Chapo and the Sinaloa cartel, adding to an already lengthy list of homicides that the jury will hear about.
The court has already sent out questionnaires to 1,000 potential jurors in the Eastern District of New York, which includes Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and Long Island. If the trial proceeds as scheduled, a handful of those people will be summoned to the courthouse next Monday to be questioned in person by prosecutors and Chapo’s defense attorneys. The jurors will remain anonymous over concerns about their safety.
The frenzy of media attention about El Chapo has been an ongoing issue amid the pretrial legal wrangling. The latest filing by the government cited recent articles in the New York Post and Daily Mail about the drug lord’s wife and sons, noting that they have been “flaunting their massive financial resources” on social media.
The government has also sought to restrict the way the press can cover the trial. Prosecutors have asked the judge to block courtroom sketch artists from drawing the faces of cooperating witnesses, citing fears that the Sinaloa cartel could use the images to track down and kill the people who testify.
Prosecutors have asked that members of the media be prohibited from entering the courtroom during the jury selection process, claiming that the presence of reporters could intimidate would-be jurors. VICE News, Newsday, and the New York Times have sent letters to the court urging the judge to allow reporters access to the proceeding.
"The world will be watching this trial, and it is important that there is confidence in our judicial system and the result in this case," wrote Yonatan Berkovits, VICE Media’s vice-president of business and legal affairs.
El Chapo has a court hearing Tuesday where Judge Cogan is expected rule on press access to jury selection and the start date of the trial. Our podcast about El Chapo and his case will be released regardless of what the judge decides.
Cover: In this Jan. 19, 2017 file photo provided by U.S. law enforcement, authorities escort Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, center, from a plane to a waiting caravan of SUVs at Long Island MacArthur Airport, in Ronkonkoma, N.Y. (U.S. law enforcement via AP, File)