NEW YORK — A federal judge in New York Wednesday denied drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman’s bid for a new trial.
US District Court Judge Brian Cogan rejected defense requests for a new trial or an evidentiary hearing to determine juror misconduct, saying a “mountain range of evidence” against the trafficker strongly countered his attorneys’ claims that jurors engaged in misconduct by following media coverage during the proceedings.
“A rational, hypothetical, average jury would certainly have convicted defendant of the crimes charged in the indictment based on the overwhelming amount of direct evidence presented during trial that defendant did, in fact, commit those crimes,” Cogan wrote.
Guzman, once the leader of the murderous Sinaloa drug cartel in Mexico, was convicted in February of running a continuing criminal enterprise and other drug-related charges. The count of engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise carries a mandatory term of life in prison.
Defense attorney Jeff Lichtman, in a statement, said Wednesday that the ruling further demonstrated the trial “was more of an inquisition, a show trial, than an exercise in true American justice.” He added there will always be “a stain of injustice on this case as the jury’s rampant misconduct was summarily swept under the rug by the Court and the government.”
Michael Lambert, another defense lawyer, called the Cogan’s decision “a logically absurd catch 22.”
In March, Guzman’s attorneys asked Cogan for a new trial and to recall the jurors back for an evidentiary hearing to find out if there had been misconduct.
Their concerns stemmed from a February Vice News article that published excerpts of an interview with an anonymous juror, who claimed that “at least five fellow jurors violated the judge’s orders by following the case in the media during the trial.” The juror also said panel members lied to Cogan when asked if they’d been exposed to news coverage that detailed parts of the case that were meant to be excluded from the trial.
Prosecutors responded that the court’s repeated instruction to jurors, their diligence during the trial, and overwhelming evidence against Guzman show that “the alleged media exposure did not prejudice the defendant.”
Jurors deliberated for six days and sent back 14 notes to the court during deliberations — which prosecutors argued showed the panel “was diligently reviewing and scrutinizing evidence.”
Last month, Guzman suffered another legal setback when Cogan denied his request for better prison conditions after federal officials claimed some of the demands could be part of a ruse aimed at helping him escape.