Judgment day: Credits close on El Chapo’s high-drama trial
The infamous drug kingpin wanted a film on his life, and the trial made for a fitting climax
After 25 years on the run – hiding from the army and police, imprisoned and staging astonishingly audacious escapes – Mexico’s most infamous druglord has finally had his day in court.
Thirty minutes later, it was all over.
Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, the $14bn man, a short and stocky 61-year-old cartel leader extradited to the US on the final day of Barack Obama’s presidency, had only one witness called to his defence.
Even that witness, an FBI agent, who gave fleeting evidence about a cocaine supplier that testified for the prosecution, was reluctant.
“He didn’t set out to help me,” Guzmán’s lawyer, Jeffrey Lichtman, told the court, somewhat ruefully.
On Monday, the jury retired to consider their verdict on 10 trafficking, money laundering and firearms charges, at the end of a trial that, the prosecution said, presented “an avalanche” of evidence against the alleged drug kingpin who famously broke out of high-security Mexican prisons not once but twice.
The trial promised much drama.
Questions swirled as to who would take on such a case.
A member of the jury pool had a panic attack in the waiting room, and had to be sent to hospital.
Once the trial eventually began, it more than delivered – indeed, so great was the interest that queues formed outside the Brooklyn courthouse at 2.30am for Guzmán’s appearance last week, in -14ºC temperatures.
It lifted the lid on the world’s most expansive drug trafficking network, the Sinaloa Cartel, in detail. And every day provided bombshell after bombshell.
It was, as one US network put it, a trial of “murder, mistresses and matching velvet”. When one of Guzmán’s mistresses took the stand to give tearful testimony, his wife Emma Coronel, a US-born beauty queen, showed up in court in a maroon velvet suit matching that worn by her husband.
On the first day of his trial, Guzmán’s shirt was open to the chest, recalling Al Pacino’s turn as a drug overlord in the 1983 film Scarface. After a break, he returned with it buttoned up amid suggestions his lawyers told him the look was not a good one.
When he caught sight of 29-year-old Coronel, a Kardashian lookalike and the mother of his seven-year-old twin daughters, he would wave goofily.
Alejandro Edda, the actor who plays Guzmán in Narcos: Mexico, the Netflix series, showed up in court, and Guzmán – who famously wanted a film on his life, and whose meeting to discuss it with Sean Penn is thought to have led to his capture – waved in delight.
“I didn’t smile back. I was just paying respect to him,” said Edda.
“I was shocked in a way. He has a very intense look. His eyes say a lot. He’s a bit intimidating.”
Some of the 56 witnesses the prosecution called also avoided eye contact.
Christian Rodriguez, a terrified-looking IT expert, testified how he had given the FBI access to all Guzmán’s communications.
He overheard a discussion about how “Chapo’s IT guy is working for the Americans”, and fled for his life.
He’s been in hiding since.
Others were more defiant. There was “Chupeta”, or “Lollipop”, a Colombian druglord who has had so much plastic surgery to avoid detection that his face is disfigured.
He admitted to 150 murders and being the main source of much of Guzmán’s cocaine.
At its peak, Chupeta’s operation in Colombia was sending 12 to 14 planes a night to Mexico, making Guzmán an estimated £490m.
There was the brother and son of Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, Guzmán’s partner in the cartel, who is on the run.
Then there was the pilot, who said he had seen rivals buried alive; a friend of the hitman who told how Guzmán ordered the murder of people in a soundproof room; the secretary, who told of the yacht, the beach houses and the private zoo, complete with lions and tigers, as well as a little train to ferry guests through it.
His legal team knew they could do little to counter the rogue’s gallery of witnesses, so they tried to show Guzmán as simply a low-level operative, with “El Mayo” as the real villain.
On Friday, newly released court documents revealed claims by witnesses that the kingpin had sex with drugged girls as young as 13, whom he referred to as “vitamins”.
Guzmán himself only spoke once in the trial, telling Judge Brian Cogan through an interpreter: “I will not testify. They counselled me about it, and I agreed.”
He faces life in prison if, as expected, he is convicted.
– © The Daily Telegraph