‘El Chapo’ trial begins under unprecedented security measures


'El Chapo' trial begins under unprecedented security measures
Mexican drug lord, El Chapo during an arrest. PHOTO: File

While a US prosecutor painted for a jury the picture of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera as the leader of a powerful and murderous drug cartel, his defense lawyer countered that Guzman was a “leader of nothing,” a myth, not a feared boss.

In opening statements before jurors in federal district court in New York, Assistant US Attorney Adam Fels described Guzman as a man who went from small-town dealer to kingpin capable of turning $10 million cocaine deals.

Fels alleged that Guzman had an army of hundreds of men with assault rifles in Mexico and he himself had a monogrammed diamond encrusted handgun and a gold-plated rifle.

“Guzman himself pulled the trigger and ordered the disposal of bodies,” Fels said.

Defense attorney Jeffrey Lichtman said Guzman spent significant time in Mexican prisons, during which time the flow of drugs into the United States never slowed down.

“Yet, he’s blamed for being the leader. The truth is, he was the leader of nothing,” Lichtman said.

Guzman’s escapes from Mexican prisons furthered the myth of him has a dangerous cartel boss, his lawyer said.

“A conviction of Guzman is the biggest prize the prosecution could have dreamed of,” he told the jurors. “They claim he is the biggest drug dealer in the world. It’s false.”

Before opening statements Tuesday, a juror — in a letter to the judge that was read aloud in court — asked to be dismissed from the case because she has suffered from anxiety since jury selection. The prosecution and defense agreed to excuse the juror.

The defense was unable to finish its statement and will pick it up Wednesday morning.

Unprecedented security
The court proceedings — the most significant criminal trial in decades — come nearly two years after Guzman’s extradition from Mexico.

The man once considered the world’s biggest drug trafficker is accused of heading a criminal enterprise that spanned continents and triggered waves of bloodshed throughout his native Mexico.

His long-awaited trial, which could last four months, began under unprecedented security measures, including armed escorts for the anonymous and partly sequestered jurors.

Heavily armed federal marshals and officers with bomb-sniffing dogs stood guard outside the courthouse. Metal detectors greeted visitors at the entrance to the courtroom.

The Brooklyn Bridge shut downs each time a police motorcade — including an ambulance and a SWAT team — shuttled Guzman to and from the Manhattan federal lockup.

“El Chapo, despite his defense that he was just a minor player, was reputed to be the innovative spirit behind the Sinaloa cartel,” said Bruce Bagley, an expert on Mexico’s drug cartels at the University of Miami. “He is, in many ways, a survivor.”

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