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Jury In New York To Decide Drug Lord Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman's Fate


Jury deliberations begin today in the trial of Mexico's most notorious drug lord. His name is Joaquin El Chapo Guzman, known simply as El Chapo, and he is the leader of the Mexican Sinaloa cartel. If the jury convicts him, he could spend the rest of his life locked up. NPR's Quil Lawrence has been covering the trial, and he joins us now. Good morning, Quil.


MARTIN: Based on the evidence, how straightforward is this for the jury, as they start deliberating?

LAWRENCE: Well, I mean, it's a little bit lopsided. The prosecution had 37 days' worth of witnesses and dozens of boxes of evidence, including - they brought AK-47s into the courtroom and these big cans of La Comadre brand chili peppers, which El Chapo allegedly used in a - his own canning factory to fill them with cocaine and then truck them by the ton across - into the United States. By contrast, the defense called only one witness, and it lasted only 30 minutes. I mean, the jury is supposed to come to this with a blank slate, but El Chapo is already notorious. I mean, he's already a character on a Netflix show. So we'll see.

MARTIN: Right. And he never took the stand, right?

LAWRENCE: No. No, he didn't. There were, you know, all these weeks and weeks of testimony, and the jury was just hearing from many of his former associates about how he created really what could only be described as a multinational kind of corporation that made him billions of dollars, allegedly. He used trains, and he dug tunnels, and he used ships and planes. And there were submarines full of cocaine and cash going back and forth between Mexico and South America and the United States.

There were wiretaps. He was obsessed with his security, and he hired someone to make his own closed, secure network. Unfortunately for El Chapo, this IT specialist turned state witness, so the jury was able to listen to a lot of tapped conversations. And the prosecutor was telling them, you - you're hearing his own words to convict him.

MARTIN: Wow. There were some gripping moments too. I mean, this is a violent guy. I mean, there were all kinds of really hideous crimes that were discussed in the course of this, weren't there?

LAWRENCE: Yeah. There was a lot of corruption, talking about sort of whole-scale - full-scale hiring of wings of the police and military. There was a video showing him interrogating a man who was chained to a post. So...

MARTIN: What has Guzman's defense said? I mean, they did bring at least one witness, as you noted earlier. But what did they say (laughter) to any of this?

LAWRENCE: I mean, his jury - his lawyer was very animated, very colorful, sometimes crude. He spent his entire day of closing arguments just maligning the character of all the cooperating witnesses, which isn't hard to do. I mean, they have names like Chupeta, who's a famous - infamous drug trafficker from Colombia. That nickname, it means lollipop. And he's been blamed with over a hundred murders himself. So the problem with...

MARTIN: These are bad people, the witnesses themselves.

LAWRENCE: Yeah. Yeah. But the problem was that his defense lawyer never really claimed too much innocence from - on Guzman's part. He was just saying that all these other people are horrible criminals. But these were Guzman's associates, so it was kind of damning him by association with them. And he didn't really try to humanize them. All he said was that, my client isn't the head of the Sinaloa drug cartel. That's another guy, Mayo Zambada. But he wasn't really claiming too much innocence on the part of El Chapo Guzman.

MARTIN: Well, we will see what the jury ultimately decides. NPR's Quil Lawrence for us this morning. Thanks so much, Quil.

LAWRENCE: Thanks, Rachel.

(SOUNDBITE OF KIASMOS' "DRAWN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Quil Lawrence is a New York-based correspondent for NPR News, covering veterans' issues nationwide. He won a Robert F. Kennedy Award for his coverage of American veterans and a Gracie Award for coverage of female combat veterans. In 2019 Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America honored Quil with its IAVA Salutes Award for Leadership in Journalism.