Evidence at the trial of cartel boss Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman will depict a "pattern of violence" that could cause jurors to "reasonably fear" for their safety, a federal judge in New York ruled in granting a government request for an anonymous and partially sequestered jury.
US District Judge Brian Cogan's order, signed Monday, said the names, addresses and places of employment of prospective jurors will not be revealed; the panel will be transported to and from the courthouse by US marshals; and jurors will be sequestered from the public while in the courthouse.
Guzman allegedly imported and distributed massive amounts of narcotics and conspired to murder rivals
He was extradited to the US from Mexico in January 2017 and has pleaded not guilty
"Defendant's history of violence alone -- violence done at his direction or on his behalf -- 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 those suspected of assisting law enforcement makes the Government's concerns particularly salient," Cogan wrote.
The trial in Brooklyn, scheduled for September, will give the notorious boss of the Sinaloa Cartel and master of escape an opportunity to defend himself against a 17-count indictment that alleges Guzman headed a criminal enterprise responsible for importing and distributing massive amounts of narcotics and conspired to murder rivals. He has pleaded not guilty.
Federal prosecutors cited Guzman's "history of interference with the judicial process" -- including "two dramatic prison escapes" in his native Mexico -- and his "means to harm the jury" in their request for an anonymous and partially sequestered panel.
Defense attorney, Eduardo Balarezo, opposed the order, saying prospective jurors have nothing to fear. He argued that granting the request would "unduly burden Mr. Guzman's presumption of innocence, impair his ability to conduct meaningful voir dire (examination of potential jurors) and create the extremely unfair impression that he is a dangerous person from whom the jury must be protected."
Balarezo said the suggestion Guzman has a vast network of criminal associates at his disposal "is nothing short of a bad joke."
"An anonymous jury -- especially one that would be permitted to function only under armed guard -- would poison the atmosphere of the case and serve to bolster the government's proof by creating the impression that Mr. Guzman is guilty and dangerous," Balarezo wrote in a court filing.
But Cogan agreed with the government that, while Guzman is not charged with violent crimes, he allegedly employed "sicarios," or hit men, who carried out hundreds of murders, assaults and kidnappings in his name.
Cogan also said that "dangerous individuals" who are not under Guzman's control but who have expressed a willingness to assist him have expanded his reach beyond Mexico.
The judge wrote that jurors will be told that their identities will not be disclosed "out of respect and concern for their privacy" as a way of limiting any potential prejudice against Guzman.
Guzman, 60, who is commonly known by his nickname "El Chapo," which loosely translates as "shorty," was extradited to the United States from Mexico in January 2017. He was immediately brought to the federal courthouse in Brooklyn for his arraignment.
Solitary confinement in a cold, small cell at a federal lockup in Manhattan has left Guzman forgetting names and places and suffering from hallucinations, paranoia and depression, his lawyer claimed in November.
Guzman also is charged with trafficking-related firearms violations and money laundering involving the smuggling of more than $14 billion in cash from the United States to Mexico.