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New York Jury Considers Allegations In Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman Case


Every Monday morning for the past 11 weeks, police have shut down New York's Brooklyn Bridge. Then a convoy of law enforcement vehicles has sped from a federal prison in Manhattan across the empty bridge to the U.S. courthouse in Brooklyn. That's where the primary passenger of that convoy is on trial, Joaquin Guzman, known as El Chapo, believed to be the head of Mexico's Sinaloa drug cartel.

NPR's Quil Lawrence is covering the trial and joins us now. Hi, Quil.


SHAPIRO: What happened in court today?

LAWRENCE: Well, it started off with a long sidebar, where the judge was supposed to start instructing the jury on their deliberations. But instead, he had a long chat with the attorneys on both sides. And it seems that this was to do with the salacious charges that came out that were unsealed on Friday night, charges that the jury hasn't seen but that were in court documents alleging that Joaquin El Chapo Guzman participated in the rape of many young girls, some as young as 13 years old, while he was hiding out in Mexico.

So the jury hadn't seen this. The judge wanted to know - or, rather, probably the defense attorney wanted to know, if some of the jurors had gone home and maybe seen some of the headlines over the weekend. It seems that they didn't. They didn't dismiss any of the jurors. And then there were almost three hours of instructing the jury about the charges.

SHAPIRO: We've been hearing about this man and this trial for so long. Remind us, big picture, what the accusation is here.

LAWRENCE: Well, there are 10 counts. And most of them are variations on distributing cocaine, manufacturing cocaine, international distribution of cocaine. But there's also charges of money laundering, using firearms while committing these other charges. And then there's the Kingpin Statute, which is continuing a criminal enterprise. And that's the big one.

That includes really all the other charges. It includes a couple dozen murder conspiracies, endless counts of volumes, just kilograms - this many kilograms of methamphetamine, this many kilograms of heroin, this many kilograms of cocaine. It's a very long list. And it could carry life in prison.

SHAPIRO: The Kingpin Statute sort of says it all.


SHAPIRO: You've been reporting on the sort of imbalanced presentation of witnesses and testimony from the prosecution versus the defense, where the defense didn't seem to put out much. It's always a guessing game how long a jury will take to reach a verdict. But what's your sense here?

LAWRENCE: Yeah, I mean, that's really all we have to go on is that the defense case only lasted 30 minutes. The prosecution lasted more than 30 days. And, you know, Guzman is infamous. He's notorious. He escaped from Mexican prison twice, once through a tunnel built under his cell with a railroad in it specially fitted to a motorcycle. He's already on a Netflix documentary about - a Netflix drama, rather, about narco.

So it's fair to say the case against him was pretty strong. It included wiretaps. But the jury has to be unanimous. So it just takes one juror having a reasonable doubt as the judge was instructing them on each case - on each charge today. And that could hold it up.

Today, you know, we know they asked a couple of questions, apparently about the charge of using a firearm. And then they asked to go home at their usual time. So does that mean they're close to a verdict? You can ask me again tomorrow if you like.

SHAPIRO: Are there extraordinary conditions that the jury is being held under? I'm thinking with all the security, there must be risks of bribes or threats or - what can you tell us about this?

LAWRENCE: Yeah, so the biggest thing is that the jury is completely anonymous, which - the judge, actually, was instructing them today and said, put your name on the bottom of this request. Then he said, no - he later corrected himself, just put your juror number.


LAWRENCE: They go home with federal marshals to protect them every night. And no one knows who they are or where they live. And in this country, hopefully that is enough to protect them, unlike it would be if they were back in Mexico.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Quil Lawrence, speaking with us from Brooklyn. Thanks, Quil.

LAWRENCE: Thanks, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Quil Lawrence is a New York-based correspondent for NPR News, covering veterans' issues nationwide. He won a Robert F. Kennedy Award for his coverage of American veterans and a Gracie Award for coverage of female combat veterans. In 2019 Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America honored Quil with its IAVA Salutes Award for Leadership in Journalism.