A federal judge in Brooklyn has ruled that the identities of jurors expected to decide the fate of accused Mexican drug lord at a trial later this year will be kept secret.
US district Judge Brian Cogan said jurors’ names, addresses and places of employment will be shielded from Guzmán, his lawyers, prosecutors and the press. He also ordered that jurors be transported to and from the courthouse by federal marshals, and sequestered from the public while there.
Prosecutors offered “strong and credible reasons” why the jury needs protections, including Guzmán’s use hitmen to carry out thousands of acts of violence over more than two decades, Cogan wrote in the order, released by the prosecutor’s office.
That history “would be sufficient to warrant an anonymous and partially sequestered jury, but that many of the allegations involve murder, assault, kidnapping or torture of potential witnesses or of those suspected of assisting law enforcement makes the government’s concerns particularly salient”, he said.
Guzmán’s attorney, Eduardo Balarezo, said that his client was disappointed by the ruling. The defense had argued that an anonymous jury would give the false impression that Guzmán is dangerous. “All he is asking for is a fair trial in front of an impartial jury,” Balazero said in a statement.
Guzmán has pleaded not guilty to charges of running a massive international drug trafficking operation.
Since his extradition in January 2017, he has been held in solitary confinement at a high-security federal jail in Manhattan, with US officials mindful of how he twice escaped from prison in Mexico, the second time via a mile-long tunnel dug to the shower in his cell.
In the past, Guzmán used his connections to continue to run his drug empire from behind bars, prosecutors said. They also claim that in the United States, Guzmán had the support of criminals who are not under his direct control.
In court papers, prosecutors cited media reports about a YouTube video made last year – and since removed from the internet – by a group of federal prisoners in California in which they boasted in Spanish that they were “hitmen” at his service.
Guzmán is due back in court on 15 February for a pre-trial hearing. The judge has indicated he expects the trial to begin in the fall.
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