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More than one third of 'El Chapo' trial jury candidates dismissed

Some prospective panelists expressed fear, bias or concern about the financial hardship of serving for the expected monthslong trial.

Jury selection began Monday in the trial of

Jury selection began Monday in the trial of Joaquin Guzman Loear, known as "El Chapo." Here, he arrives in New York from Mexico under heavy guard on Jan. 19, 2017. Photo Credit: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement via Getty Images/Charles Reed

More than a third of prospective jurors interviewed Monday on the first day of jury selection in the case against accused Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera were dismissed for reasons ranging from the hardship of a projected four-month trial to bias and fear.

Brooklyn U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan, who is keeping jurors’ names secret, excluding the public, and limiting press access because of concerns prospective jurors will be intimidated, dismissed 17 of the 46 interviewed candidates.

“What scares me is that I read that his family will come after jurors and their families,” said one older woman who told the judge she felt “unsafe,” according to a pool report filed by one of five news reporters allowed in court to watch the questioning, or “voir dire.”

Guzmán, 60, was extradited last year from Mexico, where he twice escaped prison.  He is accused of trafficking an estimated $14 billion in cocaine and other drugs into the U.S. through the Sinaloa cartel he controls, using intimidation, violence and murders to protect his empire.

His high public and media profile was highlighted during the questioning. Many prospective jurors said his name sounded familiar. One said he had looked at Guzmán’s Wikipedia page, and several others were familiar with his prison escapes and an interview done on the lam with actor Sean Penn.

That interview was arranged with the help of a Mexican actress, and one prospective juror even knew about her.

“I used to watch soap operas with my grandmother and I heard he knew an actress called Kate del Castillo,” she said.

Another prospective juror said he knew “el Chapo” was a Mexican drug lord, and noted that the name was also used for a sandwich offered by a local deli. Guzmán lawyer William Purpura asked, “ .  .  . The sandwich, does it have baloney in it?”

The prospective juror said it was a bagel with capers, lox and cream cheese.

“I don’t know why it’s called the el Chapo, but it’s delicious,” he added, according to the pool report.

Jury candidates, who had previously filled out questionnaires, were interviewed one-by-one after initial questions were asked of them in groups. Guzmán, in a blue suit and a white shirt open to his sternum, sat at the opposite end of a table from the prospective jurors.

In addition to Guzmán himself, prospective jurors were asked about other matters, such as their views on the legalization of marijuana, their Spanish fluency, and their feelings about law enforcement and about informants who cooperate with the government.

Cogan expects to complete jury selection this week, and has scheduled opening statements in the trial for next Tuesday.

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