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'El Chapo' juror read social media coverage during trial, report says

Keegan Hamilton, a reporter for Vice News who covered and tweeted extensively about the 2 1/2-month trial, said he was contacted by a juror the day after the verdict.

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 juror in the trial of Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán Loera admitted to extensive discussions among members of the Brooklyn federal court panel about social media coverage of the case according to a news report Wednesday that could provide a basis for challenging last week’s guilty verdict.

Keegan Hamilton, a reporter for Vice News who covered and tweeted extensively about the 2 1/2-month trial, said he was contacted by a juror the day after the trial and told, “You know how we were told we can’t look at the media during the trial? Well, we did.”

The Vice story said the juror said “several people” followed the coverage on social media, and also talked about the case among themselves prior to the start of deliberations, which is prohibited to make sure jurors don’t reach conclusions before the evidence is complete.

“The judge said, ‘You can’t talk about the case among each other,’ but we broke that rule a bunch of times,” the juror said.

Social media coverage of the trial included not only testimony inside the courtroom, but court papers revealing information that was not revealed at trial — such as a government witness’ claim that Guzman purchased sex from 13-year-old girls.

The juror told Vice that five jurors and two alternates had heard about those allegations, and they saw tweets reporting that U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan planned to ask them whether they had been exposed to publicity about the sex with minors after it came out in news reports.

“I had told them if you saw what happened in the news, just make sure that the judge is coming in and he’s gonna ask us, so keep a straight face. So he did indeed come to our room and ask us if we knew, and we all denied it, obviously,” said the juror.

The juror also told Vice he didn’t think that allegation factored into the verdict — “it was just like a five-minute talk” — and said jurors lied to Cogan because they were afraid they’d get into trouble.

“I thought we would get arrested,” the juror said, according to Vice. “I thought they were going to hold me in contempt…. I didn’t want to say anything or rat out my fellow jurors. I didn’t want to be that person. I just kept it to myself, and I just kept on looking at your Twitter feed.”

The revelations alarmed Guzman’s lawyers, who are likely to seek a hearing from Cogan.

"Obviously we're deeply concerned that the jury may have utterly ignored the judge's daily admonitions against reviewing the unprecedented press in the case,” said defense lawyer Jeffrey Lichtman.

“More disturbing is the revelation that the jury may have lied to the court about having seen some deeply prejudicial, uncorroborated and inadmissible allegations against Mr. Guzman on the eve of jury deliberations,” he added. “Above all, Joaquin Guzman deserved a fair trial."

 A spokesman for the Brooklyn U.S. Attorney’s office declined to comment.

The jury was anonymous. The Vice story did not disclose the identity or gender of the juror who spoke, but Hamilton said in a videoconferenced interview he recognized the juror who spoke.

The juror also said that the verdict took six days to reach because one juror was a holdout, and several sympathized with Guzmán and were concerned that he was likely to spend the rest of his life in solitary confinement.

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