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El Chapo Trial Security Involves a 'Secret Plan'

So as not to have to close the Brooklyn Bridge twice daily
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 13, 2018 9:50 AM CST

(Newser) – The trial of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman begins in Brooklyn Tuesday, and it won't include a hug between the drug kingpin and his wife. NBC News reports his lawyers had asked that he be permitted to give the former beauty queen "a brief momentary greeting to include perhaps an embrace" in advance of the proceedings, but on Thursday, Brooklyn federal court Judge Brian Cogan ruled that while Guzman has indeed "displayed considerable grace under pressure," the government had barred him from having any physical contact or communication with Emma Coronel Aispuro as a way of preventing him "from coordinating any escape from prison or directing any attack" on witnesses. And that's hardly the only interesting element of the trial. Here's what you need to know:

  • What he's on trial for: CNN reports the 61-year-old faces charges of international drug trafficking, conspiring to murder rivals, gun violations, and money laundering. It's all tied to his alleged position as leader of the Sinaloa drug cartel, which the BBC reports is being described by prosecutors as the No. 1 supplier of drugs to the US. The trial is expected to last as long as four months, and he faces a potential life sentence if convicted.

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  • Opening statements: The AP describes an element of the "epic tale" that will be told: a botched attempt on Guzman's life in 1993. Its description: "A team of gunmen sent to rub out the notorious drug lord instead killed a Roman Catholic cardinal at an airport in Guadalajara, outraging the Mexican public enough to touch off a massive manhunt for Guzman. He was captured, but prosecutors say he was undeterred from a brutal pursuit of power that lasted decades, featured jail breakouts, and left a trail of bodies."
  • Security ... is paramount, in part because the dozen-plus cooperating witnesses slated to testify include some who worked for the Sinaloa cartel. Cogan will not permit courtroom sketch artists to draw them as a precautionary step. Those witnesses are in protection programs and their names won't be released to the media. In fact, CNN notes the defense didn't get their names until Monday, after prosecutors made the case that it could put their lives in jeopardy. As for the jurors, their names, addresses, and employers will be kept secret. They'll be led to and from court by armed US marshals. Bomb-sniffing dogs will be present at the building.
  • Super security: One of the more intriguing elements of the security plan is how Guzman will get to court daily. As the BBC explains, a "secret plan" has been settled on. Guzman has, for pretrial hearings, had to travel from Manhattan's Metropolitan Correctional Center to Brooklyn via the Brooklyn Bridge, which required that it be shut down. In order to avoid having to do that twice a day into 2019, a new plan was decided upon. It's said to involve either keeping him at a secret location in Brooklyn or in special housing in the courthouse itself.
  • The defense: One of Guzman's lawyers, Jeffrey Lichtman, told the BBC he plans to describe those aforementioned witnesses as "slop," and the AP expects the defense will play up the leniency they're getting in their own cases in exchange for testifying. Another of Guzman's attorneys has indicated he'll make the case Guzman was only a lieutenant in the cartel working under someone else's command.
  • The defense II: The New York Post reports Guzman's defense tab will hit at least $5 million. Among the three trial lawyers on his team: Manhattan's Lichtman, whose past clients include John "Junior" Gotti, who was accused of ordering a hit on a radio host in 1992. Gotti was tried three times, with the same outcome each time: a deadlocked jury. The Baltimore Sun profiles another of his lawyers, William Purpura, who has defended "the worst of the worst," as his son puts it. The full piece has this detail on how tight security is around Guzman: Purpura isn't permitted to shake his hand.
  • The man, the myth, the legend: From the AP: "Among the highlights of his lore: how he was known for carrying a gold-plated AK-47; for smuggling cocaine in cans marked as jalapenos; for making shipments using planes with secret landing strips, container ships, speedboats, and even submarines."
(A woman wept upon being selected as a juror in the trial.)

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