Por William R. Wynn | TULSA, OK
This was to be the week convicted drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera was to learn his fate, but the judge in the case has delayed sentencing until July 17, pending the outcome of a motion by Guzmán’s attorneys seeking a new trial.
La Semana spoke via phone with a principal member of El Chapo’s legal team, Mariel Colón Miró, who detailed recent events in the case that captivated the world and shed light on the spartan conditions to which Guzmán is being subjected.
Colón explained that a motion for an evidentiary hearing and new trial and was filed on March 26, alleging juror misconduct, contamination, and prejudice that came to light after Guzmán’s February 12 conviction on drug charges and for running a “continuing criminal enterprise.”
“One juror came forward [after the trial] saying that at least five other jurors in the case had violated the judge’s order to avoid media coverage of the case, and had deliberately watched news reports,” Colón told La Semana.
The details set forth in the motion for an evidentiary hearing are startling, alleging that, “In a case generating publicity the Court called ‘unparalleled,’ … panel members had violated their oath and scorned the Court’s incessant instructions by actively following and discussing the blizzard of media coverage, and falsely denying it upon judicial inquiry, throughout the three-month trial.”
In the motion, Guzmán’s lawyers are asking the court to decide if “the jury’s exposure to a flood of presumptively prejudicial extraneous information – including inadmissible allegations that the defendant drugged and raped 13-year- old girls – mandate an evidentiary hearing” to determine the extent of juror misconduct and if it was possible, under the circumstances, for Guzmán to have received a fair trial by an impartial jury.
The juror who came forward the day after the trial ended told a journalist, Vice News reporter Keegan Hamilton, that five or more fellow jurors had been routinely following Hamilton’s Twitter coverage of the trial, even though trial Judge Brian Cogan had expressly forbidden them to watch or read any reports about the case. The whistleblower said the jurors who were involved in the misconduct even coordinated how they would “keep a straight face” while lying to the judge should he ask them if they were complying with his order.
While awaiting sentencing, indeed throughout the entire proceeding that has dragged on for more than two years now, Guzmán has been kept in solitary confinement and not allowed any time outdoors.
Extraordinary restrictions know as “Special Administrative Measures” (‘SAMs’) were imposed on Guzmán beginning with his pretrial detention and through the present day because of the government’s fears that El Chapo could coordinate an escape or continue to run the Sinaloa cartel from behind bars. Colón insists that simply allowing her client occasional human contact and fresh air would not pose any risk and his confinement is cruel and punitive, despite him being a model prisoner.
“Mr. Guzmán has had no outdoor exercise for the past 28 months, spending 23 hours a day alone in his small, windowless 10 x 8 cell,” Colón said. “He is only allowed to leave his cell one hour a day, Monday through Friday, to exercise on a stationary bike in another small cell.”
In a letter to Judge Cogan asking that her client’s severe treatment be lessened, at least to afford him occasional time outdoors, Colón wrote, “On the weekends, he is not permitted any exercise. Mr. Guzmán has been over two years now without any access to fresh air or natural sunlight. Furthermore, the light in his cell is always on, leading to serious issue of sleep deprivation.”
So far the judge has remained unmoved, and the man who, when incarcerated in his native Mexico, reportedly lived in a manner that by prison standards would be considered luxurious, now suffers in conditions that even the jurors who convicted him felt were “inhumane.”
He is forbidden from seeing his wife and only gets to visit his twin seven-year-old daughters once or twice a year. Even his legal visits are through glass.
La Semana asked the attorney how El Chapo’s spirits are, given his draconian confinement, the lack of all human contact, and the very real possibility he will face life in prison should his legal claims prove unsuccessful. Her answer was unexpected.
“Surprisingly, he tries to maintain and be positive,” Colón said. “He’s trying to stay focused on the legal issues.”
A ruling on whether or not the judge will allow the defense’s requested evidentiary hearing is expected in next week or two. (La Semana)