Friday 20 April 2018

Judge orders special protection for jury to sit in trial of drug lord El Chapo

Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman (AP)
Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman (AP)
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

A U.S. judge in Brooklyn has ruled that the identities of jurors expected to decide the fate of accused Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman at a trial this year will be kept secret.

In a decision on Monday, U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan said jurors' names, addresses and places of employment will be shielded from Guzman, his lawyers, prosecutors and the press.

He also ordered that jurors be transported to and from the courthouse by federal marshals, and sequestered from the public while there.

Eduardo Balarezo, a lawyer for Guzman, did not immediately respond on Tuesday to requests for comment.

U.S. prosecutors have accused Guzman, 60, of running a global cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine smuggling operation as the leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, and playing a central role in a decade-long Mexican drug war where more than 100,000 people have died.

Cogan said the U.S. government "presented strong and credible reasons to believe that the jury needs protection," and the evidence might depict a "pattern of violence" by Guzman and his associates that might cause jurors to fear for their safety.

"That many of the allegations involve murder, assault, kidnapping, or torture of potential witnesses or those suspected of assisting law enforcement makes the government's concerns particularly salient," Cogan wrote.

The judge also said the significant media attention to the case could raise the potential for juror names to become public, exposing jurors to the risk of intimidation or harassment.

Balarezo had argued that having an anonymous jury would undermine the presumption that Guzman was innocent, create an unfair impression that Guzman was dangerous, and impair the defendant's ability to obtain a fair jury.

He said keeping juror identities from the public and news media would have been a "fair compromise."

The trial of Guzman is scheduled to begin in September, according to court records, and could last a few months.

Mexican authorities captured Guzman and an associate in January 2016 by pulling over a Ford Focus they had stolen, after Guzman had fled through tunnels and drains from a raid on a safe house in Sinaloa.

The arrest came six months after Guzman had escaped through a tunnel from a high-security Mexican prison. Guzman was extradited to the United States in January 2017.

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