Convicted Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman was denied a new trial on Wednesday in the Eastern District of New York. U.S. District Judge Brian M. Cogan determined that El Chapo was not entitled to an evidentiary hearing or a new trial.
“Following a three-month trial, a jury found defendant guilty of 10 counts related to his widespread drug trafficking activity as a leader of the Sinaloa Cartel. Defendant has moved pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33 for a new trial upon an evidentiary hearing based on allegations of juror misconduct. For the reasons below, his motion for both an evidentiary hearing and a new trial is denied,” the judge ruled.
El Chapo’s defense lawyers moved quickly for a new trial after explosive allegations were made in a VICE News article that jurors routinely consulted inadmissible evidence and broke court rules like talking to each another about the case in and outside the courtroom. They also accused jurors of lying to the judge.
Prosecutors argued that the “nature of the alleged media exposure (which did not relate to the charged crimes), the Court’s repeated instructions as to the jury’s proper considerations, the jury’s diligence at trial, and the overwhelming evidence against the defendant, the alleged media exposure did not prejudice the defendant.”
In short, Judge Cogan agreed with prosecutors.
“With respect to the jurors’ exposure to media coverage, defendant argues that a hearing is necessary ‘to determine how many jurors violated the Court’s instructions; exactly what they read and saw; whether, when and how frequently they discussed it; and precisely who said what to whom,'” the judge wrote. “But when defendant’s position is considered in conjunction with the entirety of the VICE article and the trial record, this request is the textbook definition of a fishing expedition, rather than ‘clear, strong, substantial and incontrovertible evidence that a specific, nonspeculative impropriety has occurred.'”
“And although the VICE article states generally that the jurors discussed media coverage, the juror did not identify any other specific media coverage that the jurors discussed, and as demonstrated above, there is no basis to explore that matter further,” also wrote on the juror controversy. “Thus, the record that is before me contradicts defendant’s conclusory statements that the jurors must have engaged in prejudicial premature deliberations.”
The judge also denied the motion for a new trial.
“In further support of the conclusion that defendant cannot identify any prejudice from these conversations, nothing in the VICE article suggests that the jurors did not engage in fulsome deliberations consistent with my instructions that they were to base their verdict solely on the evidence introduced in court,” Cogan said. “Thus, his new trial motion based on premature deliberations is denied.”
Nor did Judge Cogan shy away from describing the overwhelming evidence presented at trial:
During the three months of trial, the jury heard testimony from over 50 witnesses, including 14 cooperating witnesses and dozens of law enforcement witnesses. The witnesses testified about defendant’s extensive drug trafficking activities, including of cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine, and heroin, and including his use of planes, trains, helicopters, boats, semi- submersibles, automobiles, and foot tunnels, to accomplish his international work. The witnesses also testified about defendant’s many acts of violence, including that defendant personally killed or tortured his victims and that defendant ordered his sicarios, or hitmen, to murder or torture others, in furtherance of his vast drug empire, as well as about the violent wars in which defendant and his sicarios participated against the enemies of the Sinaloa Cartel. The jury also read defendant’s text messages and heard recordings about his drug trafficking activities (including recordings of defendant himself) and saw in court examples of the types of weapons and machinery defendant used and with which he outfitted his sicarios to protect hisvast and lucrative drug interests. The jury also saw in court drugs that were seized from some of defendant’s narcotics operations.
Throughout the trial, the defense argued that El Chapo was a fall guy for kingpin Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada. The jury in question found differently. Prosecutors alleged that Guzman violently trafficked in cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine and secured a conviction, meaning “one of the world’s most notorious criminals” is in line to spend the rest of his life behind bars.
[Image via Alfredo EstrellaA/AFP/Getty Images]