By TOM HAYS/Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) – Notorious Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman will have an anonymous jury at his U.S. trial later this year.
In a written order, U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan agreed with prosecutors who argued that withholding the names of jurors was needed to address any fears that they could be harassed or intimidated. Jurors also will be escorted to and from the Brooklyn courthouse by deputy U.S. marshals and sequestered from the public while inside, the judge said.
Prosecutors offered “strong and credible reasons” why the jury needs protections, including Guzman’s use of sicarios, or hitmen, to carry out thousands of acts of violence over more than two decades, the judge wrote in the order, released by the prosecutor’s office on Tuesday.
That history “would be sufficient to warrant an anonymous and partially sequestered jury, but that many of the allegations involve murder, assault, kidnapping or torture of potential witnesses or of those suspected of assisting law enforcement makes the government’s concerns particularly salient,” he said.
Guzman’s attorney, Eduardo Balarezo, said on Tuesday that his client was disappointed by the ruling. The defense had argued that an anonymous jury would give the false impression that Guzman is dangerous.
“All he is asking for is a fair trial in front of an impartial jury,” Balarezo said in a statement.
Guzman has pleaded not guilty to charges of running a massive international drug trafficking operation. Since his extradition in January 2017, he has been held in solitary confinement at a high-security federal jail in Manhattan, with U.S. officials mindful of how he twice escaped from prison in Mexico, the second time via a mile-long tunnel dug to the shower in his cell.
In the past, Guzman used his connections to continue to run his drug empire from behind bars, prosecutors said. They also claim that in the United States, Guzman had the support of criminals who are not under his direct control.
In court papers, prosecutors cited media reports about a YouTube video made last year – and since removed from the internet – by a group of federal prisoners in California in which they boasted in Spanish that they were “hitmen” at his service. On the recording, their faces were concealed with pieces of clothing and sunglasses.
One was heard assuring Guzman “everything is ready for you. What you say is the law. Here you have more than 3,500 soldiers.”
Guzman is due back in court on Feb. 15 for a pretrial hearing. The judge has indicated he expects the trial to begin in the fall.
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