LATEST PAPER
70° Good Afternoon
70° Good Afternoon
News

Judge in 'El Chapo' drug trafficking case won't order new trial or hearing on jury misconduct

The judge said that even if the Vice report was true, the evidence jurors found out about was “no more gruesome” than evidence admitted at trial.

Joaquín

Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán Loera was found guilty on drug charges at a federal courthouse in Brooklyn on Feb. 12, 2019. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Handout

A Brooklyn federal judge refused on Wednesday to conduct a hearing on reported jury misconduct during the drug trafficking trial of Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán Loera and declined to order a new trial for the convicted Mexican cocaine kingpin.

U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan rejected a defense motion that followed a report in Vice News of an interview with a juror who said the panel was exposed to press reports of prejudicial evidence that was kept out at trial, including claims that Guzmán had drugged and sexually abused underage girls.

The judge said that even if the Vice report was true, the evidence jurors found out about was “no more gruesome” than evidence admitted at trial of Guzmán “threatening, torturing and murdering” people to control and defend his sprawling drug empire.

“It is not as if this media coverage exposed the jury to a form of prejudicial information to which they had not already been exposed at length,” Cogan wrote.

Guzmán, 62, who led the notorious Sinaloa cartel and twice escaped Mexican prisons, was convicted in February of smuggling an estimated $14 billion worth of cocaine into the United States, after a three-month trial. His sentencing is scheduling for July 17. He faces a mandatory prison term of life.

Just days after his conviction by the anonymous jury, Vice reported that an unnamed juror had disclosed that members of the panel ignored orders to stay away from media accounts during the trial and not discuss the case, knew about the sex-with-minors evidence, and lied to Cogan about their misbehavior.

Defense lawyers asked the judge to conduct an evidentiary hearing to confirm the misbehavior, find out how extensive it had been, and order a new trial, if warranted.

But on Wednesday Cogan turned down both requests. He ruled that he couldn’t go far beyond the Vice report if he did  hold a hearing, and that even assuming it was true a new trial wasn’t merited, based on the most serious allegation – exposure to the sex-with-minors allegation.

“The allegations are entirely irrelevant to the crimes for which the jury convicted defendant,” Cogan wrote. “By comparison, a mountain range of evidence was introduced against defendant over three months of trial that directly implicated him in the crimes with which he was charged.”

He said that alleged discussions jurors had before deliberations and their alleged lies to him were not optimal, but did not constitute evidence that any of them harbored a bias against Guzmán or that he was prejudiced.

Jeffrey Lichtman, a defense lawyer for Guzmán, was critical of Cogan’s ruling, describing it as a cynical effort to sustain a conviction after a long trial that would leave a “stain of injustice” on the conviction.

“This isn’t even remotely surprising, as we’ve said from the start that the Joaquin Guzmán trial was more of an inquisition, a show trial, than an exercise in American justice,” Lichtman said. “We’re at the point that even though jurors committed crimes while themselves judging Mr. Guzmán’s alleged crimes, a hearing to determine the extent of the misconduct was not even ordered.”

A spokesman for U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue declined to comment on the ruling.

Comments

We're revamping our Comments section. Learn more and share your input.

News photos & videos