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Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán successfully busted out of two Mexican prisons, once by hiding in a laundry cart and later by riding a motorcycle through a mile-long tunnel. But his attempt to escape his recent conviction in the United States has failed.
On Wednesday, Judge Brian Cogan denied the Sinaloa cartel leader’s request for a new trial. Chapo will now be sentenced on July 17 at the federal courthouse in Brooklyn, where he faces a mandatory sentence of life without parole.
The 62-year-old Guzmán, whose nickname means Shorty, was convicted in February on a 10-count indictment for smuggling tons of drugs into the U.S., laundering millions of dollars, and using brutal violence to build his criminal empire. The unanimous guilty verdict came after an epic three-month trial that saw multiple high-ranking Mexican and Colombian narcos testify against their former boss and business partner.
A week after the guilty verdict, VICE News spoke with an anonymous member of the jury, who alleged juror misconduct. They said multiple jurors read about the case in the media against the judge’s orders, including coverage of explosive allegations withheld from trial about Chapo drugging and raping girls as young as 13.
Chapo’s lawyers asked for a hearing to investigate the jurors’ activities, arguing that he deserved a do-over trial because the first jury was tainted. Federal prosecutors, who spent years and millions in taxpayer dollars working to put away the world’s most notorious drug kingpin, argued that the “overwhelming evidence” presented during the trial would have led to his conviction regardless of what the jury saw or heard outside the courtroom.
Judge Cogan sided with the government, ruling that media coverage likely had no impact on the verdict because “a mountain range of evidence” showed El Chapo was guilty, and “a rational, hypothetical, average jury” would have convicted him regardless of what jurors read or discussed among themselves.
“The amount and variety of media coverage published during this trial was unprecedented, and the scope of possible points of jury exposure to that media is undefinable,” Cogan wrote. “Thus, to grant an evidentiary hearing on such an allegation would only result in an ocean-wide fishing expedition to see to what specific coverage on what specific date any given juror was exposed and to what extent.”
No additional jurors have spoken out since our story was published, and because they were granted anonymity by the court over security concerns, it has been impossible to corroborate the juror’s account.
The person, whose status as a juror was confirmed by VICE News, said most people kept an open mind and judged the case based on the evidence, which obliterated any reasonable doubt about Chapo’s guilt.
“There were jurors already with their minds made up,” they said. “There were jurors that still weren’t sure, and there were jurors that were looking to find possible ways, possible discrepancies, to find him innocent.”
Chapo, who has been held in solitary confinement in a high-security wing of a downtown Manhattan jail since his extradition in January 2017, will likely be sent to ADX Florence, a “supermax” federal prison Colorado known as the Alcatraz of the Rockies. The prison holds other drug lords, terrorists, spies, and infamous criminals. Nobody has ever escaped.
Chapo’s lawyer, Jeffrey Lichtman, said Cogan’s ruling was “no surprise” because the trial was “more of an inquisition, a show trial, than an exercise in true American justice.” He said the defense would appeal Cogan’s ruling.
“We’re at the point that even though jurors committed crimes while themselves judging Mr. Guzman, a hearing to determine the extent of the misconduct was not even ordered,” Lichtman said. “Instead, there will always be a stain of injustice on this case as the jury’s rampant misconduct was summarily swept under the rug by the court and the government.”
Cover: In this Jan. 19, 2017 file photo provided by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman arrives at Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma, N.Y., after being extradited to the United States to face drug trafficking charges. (United States Drug Enforcement Administration via AP)