A few hours after Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzman was sentenced to life in prison on Wednesday, a team of U.S. Marshals loaded the Sinaloa cartel leader into a helicopter, presumably shipping him off to a federal supermax prison in Colorado, where the 62-year-old kingpin is expected to spend his remaining years alone in a 7x12-foot cell.
He will likely never been seen or heard from again.
But before disappearing forever from public view, Chapo was allowed a few minutes to speak his mind. At his sentencing hearing, Judge Brian Cogan permitted Chapo to address the court. He read slowly in Spanish from a prepared statement, which was relayed in English through a translator. This is the official record of his statement, as transcribed by the court reporter, with a few explanatory notes added for clarity:
JUDGE COGAN: All right. Mr. Guzman, you have the right to be heard. Is there anything that you would like to say?
EL CHAPO: Yes, Your Honor. Thank you very much.
I thank you, Your Honor, for allowing me to say a few words. Do I stand?
JUDGE COGAN: It is up to you, Mr. Guzman, whichever you want. I think you should probably sit because it is easier to talk into the microphone.
THE SPANISH INTERPRETER: "Will you translate for me?" "Yes, sir."
EL CHAPO: First of all, I would like to thank my wife, my family, my daughters for their unconditional support during this large — this long proceeding. They have supported me and they will continue to support me.
To my mother, my brothers, my sisters and everybody, all the people who prayed for me, their prayers have given me the strength to bear this torture that I have been under for the last 30 months. And I would like to thank my private attorneys and the public defenders, especially the attorneys Michele and Michael, and all the paralegals.
Chapo was represented during his trial by three private attorneys: Jeffrey Lichtman, William Purpura, and Eduardo Balarezo. In the months after his extradition from Mexico, his lawyers were court-appointed public defenders Michelle Gelernt and Michael Schneider.
EL CHAPO: As you know, Your Honor, the conditions of my confinements under which I've lived for the last 30 months have been total torture. I have been forced to drink unsanitary water. I have been denied access to fresh air and to sunlight. The only light that I get in my cell comes through a duct, and the air that comes into the cell is forced in and it makes my ears, my throat, my head hurt. In order to sleep, I have to use plugs made out of toilet paper in my ears because of the noise that the air duct makes and this has affected me during this time.
After his extradition in January 2017, Chapo was held in the Metropolitan Correctional Center, a high-security federal jail in Manhattan. His attorneys repeatedly challenged the conditions of his confinement, arguing that the extreme solitary — Chapo was alone in a cell for up to 23 hours per day, with no outdoor exercise — was tantamount to torture. Judge Cogan repeatedly denied his pleas for relief, including a request for bottled water and normal earplugs, after prosecutors argued that he might use the items in an escape plot.
EL CHAPO: My wife has not been allowed, to this date, to visit me. I have not been allowed to hug my daughters. It has been psychological, emotional, mental torture 24 hours a day. With all due respect, it's been torture. It's the most inhumane situation I've lived in my life. It's been lack of respect for human dignity. I was forced... these last 30 months have been filled with torture and we are in the 21st century. We would not be subjected to these cruel and inhumane treatment.
Chapo was not allowed to see his wife, Emma Coronel, likely because she is suspected of having helped orchestrate his 2015 escape from a Mexican prison. Chapo was also denied contact visits with his 7-year-old twin daughters, though they were allowed to see him in jail. Chapo is also under “Special Administrative Measures” (SAMs), which prevent him from contacting anyone other than his lawyers and a handful of close relatives. Under the restrictions, anyone who passes a message from Chapo could face prosecution.
EL CHAPO: I thank the prison guards. Their good treatment of myself has allowed me to bear this torture. And to the Marshals here in the courthouse during the three months that my trial lasted when they have me here, when they transport me from the jail to the courthouse, from the courthouse to the jail.
When I was extradited to the United States I expected to have a fair trial, a trial where justice would be blind and where my fame, my reputation, would not be a determining factor in the administration of justice. But what happened was actually the opposite even though you, Your Honor, gave the jury instructions to not watch media and to -- and the jury promised to follow the rules. They did the opposite. They looked at all the articles where I was exposed to the most horrible accusations against me, which were not true. These accusations damaged my opportunity to be judged only on the evidence presented at trial.
A member of the jury told a newspaper that they had violated the law and that they have lied to you. In response, you decided to do nothing. You didn't want to question not even one member of the jury to determine if I had received justice and you didn't want to bring the jury back to question the jury because that would have resulted in a new trial, a trial where this second time I would have received justice.
Chapo is referring to an interview with an anonymous juror published by VICE News on February 20, eight days after his conviction. The juror said several members of the jury disobeyed the judge’s orders and read about the case in the media, including reports that a government witness accused Chapo of drugging and raping young girls.
EL CHAPO: So what you did was you alleged that the actions of the jury were not important because there was a lot of evidence against me. You alleged that the actions of the jury were not important because there was a lot of evidence against me to find me guilty. If that was the case, then I ask you, why did we go to trial? Why not rather sentence me from day one? The jury was not necessary, then.
Judge Cogan denied Chapo’s request for a new trial, saying the “mountain range of evidence” presented during the trial outweighed any harm that might have been caused by jurors reading news reports about the case.
EL CHAPO: Since the Government of the United States is going to send me to a prison where my name will not ever be heard again, I take advantage of this opportunity to say there was no justice here. My case was stained and you denied me a fair trial when the whole world was watching and where the press was present, judging everybody's actions at every moment. And this then can be denied to any other person in other cases where nobody's watching.
What happened here leaves very clear that the United States is not better than any other corrupt country of those that you do not respect.
Thank you, Your Honor.
JUDGE COGAN: Thank you, Mr. Guzman.
After Chapo spoke, Assistant U.S. Attorney Gina Parlovecchio delivered a rebuttal for the government, arguing that “justice was served” with Chapo’s conviction. She also noted that Chapo appeared unrepentant with his final remarks.
“Throughout his criminal career, this defendant has not shown one shred of remorse for his crimes, and you heard that today,” Parlovecchio said. “He is not sorry for his crimes.”
A complete transcript of the entire proceeding is viewable in full below.
Cover: In this courtroom sketch, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, foreground right, reads a statement through an interpreter during his sentencing in federal court, Wednesday, July 17, 2019, in New York. The Mexican drug kingpin, who was convicted in February 2019 on multiple conspiracy counts in an epic drug-trafficking case, was sentenced to life behind bars in a U.S. prison Wednesday. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)