Inside the Courtroom: El Chapo Appeared Stunned After Verdict
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There seemed little doubt, even from the start, that the Mexican drug lord Joaquín Guzmán Loera would be convicted at his epic drug trial in New York. But when the verdict finally arrived, at 12:31 p.m. on Tuesday, sadness, pride and, for many, sheer relief that the marathon was over swept through the Brooklyn courtroom, ending not only a grueling three-month trial, but an excruciating week of jury deliberations.
The first sign that a verdict had been reached came just after noon when Melonie Clarke, Judge Brian M. Cogan’s deputy, entered the eighth-floor courtroom to tell the defense and prosecution that jurors had just sent out a note saying they had come to a decision. For the next 25 minutes, a crowd of lawyers, reporters and government officials waited anxiously for the answer to a question most assumed they had known for weeks: Was the kingpin, known to the world as El Chapo, guilty?
At one point, Richard P. Donoghue, the United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York, appeared in court to wish his prosecution team good luck, shaking each of their hands. Jeffrey Lichtman, one of Mr. Guzmán’s lawyers, did the same in an apparent show of sportsmanship.
Then, at 12:25 p.m., Mr. Guzmán was brought into the courtroom by several federal marshals and, as he had done throughout the trial, looked immediately at his wife, Emma Coronel Aispuro, who was sitting on a bench in the second row. As more marshals — called in to provide security — filled the well of the court, Judge Cogan announced from the bench: “We have reached a verdict.”
A minute later, the 18 jurors slowly filed in — and none even glanced at Mr. Guzmán. The foreperson, known only as Juror 11, gave the verdict sheet to Ms. Clarke, who passed it to Judge Cogan. As he read the verdict aloud — guilty on all 10 counts of the indictment — Mr. Guzmán listened through an interpreter, his mouth agape and looking vaguely stunned.
After the verdict was read, Mr. Guzmán looked back at Ms. Coronel, who flashed him a thumbs up with tears in her eyes.
Judge Cogan, in his own emotional moment, told jurors that in his 13 years of trial work, he had never seen a panel that had paid more attention to a case or had scrutinized the evidence as closely as it had.
“Quite frankly,” he added, “it made me proud to be an American.”
[Read our story on the conviction of El Chapo. He was found guilty on all 10 counts.]
The jury had certainly kept both sides on tenterhooks, deliberating over 35 hours spread across six days. During their deliberations, jurors not only asked the usual legal questions, but also took the unusual step of requesting the entire testimonies — amounting to thousands of pages — for five of the government’s 14 cooperating witnesses.
During the six-day wait for the jury’s decision, a man who claimed to be a family friend of Mr. Guzmán visited the courthouse on Thursday and was promptly arrested on multiple open warrants for harassment charges. By the end of the day, the man, Rene Javier Rivera Martinez, was in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement on an immigration detainer.
The day before Mr. Rivera Martinez’s arrest, two other men were removed from the main courtroom after it was discovered that they had continued a multiday ruse pretending to be paralegals for the defense.
It all seemed to keep with the trial’s circuslike atmosphere.
After the jurors left the courtroom on Tuesday and Mr. Guzmán, waving goodbye to his wife, was taken back to his holding cell, the courthouse erupted into further frantic activity as reporters rushed outside into the snow for dueling news conferences by the defense and prosecution. Even though security had been tight throughout the trial, it was extra tight on verdict day: Marshals carrying assault rifles and wearing camouflage combat gear patrolled the lobby, and a bomb-sniffing dog lay by the door.
The verdict came on the heels of a quiet morning. Less than an hour before the jury informed the judge of a verdict, A. Eduardo Balarezo, one of Mr. Guzmán’s lawyers, wandered two floors down to the media room to chat with reporters. He said he did not expect a verdict, though some of the other defense lawyers did. (William Purpura, he noted, was donning a made-for-TV suit.)
Mr. Balarezo said that Mr. Guzmán was prepared for the impending decision, adding that the kingpin was ready for any outcome.
“My client’s feet are firmly planted on the ground,” he said.