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'El Chapo' trial means long waits to enter the Brooklyn federal courthouse

Notoriety of the case leads to lengthy lines in a steady rain for court visitors, with some elated at being in the same building as the legendary alleged drug trafficker.

People wait in a long line to enter

People wait in a long line to enter Brooklyn federal court Tuesday, the first day of El Chapo's trial. Photo Credit: Jeff Bachner

For a defendant nicknamed "Shorty," nothing was short on the first day of the trial for accused Mexican drug lord Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán Loera.

Hourlong waits in line to enter the federal courthouse in Downtown Brooklyn — and a lengthy delay after two jurors had to be replaced at the last minute — marked the start of what is expected to be a four-month trial for Guzmán, accused of running a $14 billion drug trafficking operation to the United States.

Tight security was the underlying theme of the day with bomb-sniffing dogs deployed and radiation machines greeting courthouse visitors — a confluence of news media from around the world and hundreds of others there for more routine events like a naturalization ceremony and jury duty with less famous defendants.

Even entering an overflow courtroom to view the alleged drug kingpin's trial on video included tight security. Anyone wanting to get in had to remove their shoes, airport style, before passing through a metal detector.

Has it ever been this hectic at the courthouse that served as the venue for multiple trials of the late mob boss John Gotti?

"Never," deadpanned one court security guard.

Waiting in a line that snaked up and down an entire city block to enter the courthouse, Erika Isabel, 48, of Queens, said she had heard of El Chapo.

"Allegedly, apparently he's a huge person in the underworld …" Isabel said as she waited to report for jury duty in a steady rain. "But other than that, I don't know much."

Isabel added that at least she'd have an interesting tale for her family when she arrived home.

“It will probably be one of those stories you tell around the dinner table,” she said. “It’s like one of the biggest cases since O.J.”

Chis Louinis, of Flatbush, Brooklyn, also waiting in line, said he didn’t mind the added security precautions.

“It’s big,” said Louinis, 29. “He escaped prison a couple of times.”

The proceedings, scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m., didn’t get underway until after 3 p.m. Two jurors selected to serve on the panel brought issues to the judge, who decided to dismiss them. The hourslong process then began to replace them from a pool of prescreened jurors.

Among the supporters of Guzmán in attendance, was his wife, Emma Coronel Aispuro, a former beauty queen, who didn’t comment after leaving the courthouse Tuesday night.

The celebrity legend of Guzmán, who once hosted actor and director Sean Penn for an interview while on the run from a Mexican prison, was referenced by one of his defense attorneys, Jeffrey Lichtman, when opening statements finally commenced.

Guzmán is “the biggest prize” to American prosecutors, said Lichtman, because of his status as a “mythical, elusive figure” in the criminal world.

Aisha Ahmad, a housewife from Kew Gardens, Queens, and in line for jury duty, lit up when she was told El Chapo was being tried inside.

"I’m a news junkie,” said Ahmad, 57. “It’s little bit exciting."

That allure drew heavy crowds of mostly reporters to the eighth floor of the courthouse. While seats for the press and general public were limited inside the courtroom, court personnel set up the overflow courtroom with several video monitors for the members of the media to watch the proceedings. But only about 40 reporters were allowed inside. And if anyone left, say to eat lunch, they lost their spot.

Adam Ophir, 18, a freshman at Marymount Manhattan College on the Upper East Side who’s originally from Marin County, California, was assigned to cover the trial for a journalism class.

Ophir worried about his prospects for landing a spot inside but said he’d be willing to sacrifice his comfort.

“I’ll sit on the floor if I have to,” he said.


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