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'El Chapo' lawyers ask for a new trial

The motion follows a report that a juror contacted Vice News, claiming the panel violated instructions by reading press accounts of the case.

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

Lawyers for convicted drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera asked on Tuesday for a new trial and a hearing  at which they might question jurors about their reported misconduct, including exposure to prejudicial publicity on the eve of their deliberations.

“If a justice system’s measure is how it treats the most reviled and unpopular, then ours may have failed Joaquin Guzman by denying him the fair trial before an untainted jury to which he’s constitutionally entitled,” Guzman’s defense team said in a motion filed with Brooklyn U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan.

The motion follows a Vice News story days after Guzman’s February conviction, reporting that a juror had reached out to disclose that the panel violated Cogan’s instructions by reading press accounts of the case — including claims excluded from evidence that Guzman had bought sex from teenage girls.

The juror, whose identity, like those of the rest of the panel, was kept anonymous, also reportedly told Vice that multiple jurors followed social media reports on the case, discussed it before evidence was complete, in violation of court rules, and lied to Cogan when he questioned them.

The defense motion said the case was extraordinary because jurors “actively sought out and openly discussed the most sensational extrinsic information, including vile allegations that the defendant raped young girls, overtly defying [Cogan] and cannily lying to Your Honor when asked about it.”

Guzman, 61, a notorious leader of Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel who twice escaped Mexican prisons, was convicted of using violence to control a drug empire that smuggled an estimated $14 billion worth of cocaine into the United States, after a three-month trial featuring 14 informants among 56 witnesses. He faces a mandatory life sentence.

Jeffrey Lichtman, one of Guzman’s lawyers, said the misconduct reported in Vice seemed to be pervasive, not one or two jurors being mistakenly exposed to publicity.

“This instead is a case where multiple jurors sought out the most prejudicial press coverage, filled with allegations which never made it into the trial, as well as misinterpretations of evidence — and then plotted to lie about it to the judge,” he said. “These are crimes.”

Legal experts said the first hurdle in any defense bid for a new trial will be to document the misconduct, instead of relying on one report of an interview with one juror. In Tuesday’s motion, the defense said the Vice News story was enough to impose on Cogan a “duty to investigate.”

They didn’t specify the witnesses to be called — who could include Vice reporter Keegan Hamilton, court personnel, and jurors — but said Cogan, who questioned jurors during the trial and claimed to have a rapport, should let the defense be involved.

“With Guzman’s case commanding unprecedented worldwide attention, the ‘appearance’ of fairness calls for defense counsel’s examining the witnesses personally or, at the very least, submitting questions in writing,” defense lawyer Marc Fernich wrote.

In the motion, defense lawyers said they also wanted to determine whether any juror gave false information during jury selection to hide potential bias. No deadline has been set for the government to respond.

A spokesman for Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue declined to comment on the defense motion.

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