NEW YORK — Jurors deciding the fate of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman don’t need multiple special safety protections, according to his lawyer.
Defense attorney A. Eduardo Balarezo said if jurors have to be escorted to and from Brooklyn Federal Court by marshals, with their identities kept secret, that will “poison” Guzman’s shot at a fair trial.
Opposing a prosecution bid for an anonymous and partially sequestered jury, Balarezo said such a measure “sends the message to each juror that he or she needs to be protected from Mr. Guzman. From there, members of the jury could infer that Mr. Guzman is both dangerous and guilty.”
With an anonymous jury, prosecution and defense lawyers don’t even know juror identities. The jurors are known by a number, with all personal information kept under lock and key by the court.
Mexican authorities just released photos from inside the bullet-ridden apartment that ultimately led to the capture of the alleged drug lord known as El Chapo in Los Mochis in Mexico’s Sinaloa state. Five people were shot dead in the safe house during an operation to recapture Guzman on Jan. 7, 2016.
The lawyer said there were better ways to protect jurors, like making their names nonpublic, forbidding any juror contact and even barring Guzman from knowing the names.
Prosecutors look for anonymous juries in various violent crime cases, including mob and terrorism trials. Here, they say the precautions are needed for the Sinaloa Cartel leader, who has used hitmen on possible witnesses in the past.
Balarezo said authorities were basing their claims that Guzman poses a threat to jurors on weak evidence like “untested and suspect statements from cooperators seeking to reduce their own sentences.”
Inside his super-restrictive Manhattan jail, there’s no way Guzman can relay anything menacing to the outside, Balarezo said — he’s not even allowed to tell his 6-year-old twin girls to send greetings to their mother.
Prosecutors say another reason for juror protections is the media maelstrom that will come with the trial.
But Balarezo said it’s the government that’s hyping the case, pointing to things like Guzman’s publicized Long Island airport perp walk after he was extradited from Mexico.
Cogan will have some time to think about jury issues. Earlier this month, he adjourned Guzman’s trial date from April to September. Prosecutors estimate their case will take three or four months.