US jury convicts Mexican drug lord El Chapo

Charlene Craig
February 13, 2019

The 61-year-old was found guilty today by a NY court of operating the huge criminal enterprise and is expected to be given life in prison.

Accused Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is seen with a handgun on display during a testimony by Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agent Victor Vazquez (not shown) in this courtroom sketch in Brooklyn federal court in New York City on January 17, 2019.

Biting his lip, his eyes red as he appeared to continually fight back tears, the small-fry cartel killer - who was convicted in Brooklyn court Tuesday and now faces life in prison - was a far cry from the picture painted of him by United States authorities as the ruthless head of the world's largest illicit-drug network. Once the jury left the room, he and his wife put their hands to their hearts and gave each other the thumbs up sign. He was free at that point after a dramatic escape in which he tunneled out of a Mexican prison.

The 11-week trial, which featured testimony from more than 50 witnesses, offered the public an unprecedented look at the inner workings of the Sinaloa Cartel, named for the state in northwestern Mexico where Guzman was born in a poor mountain village.

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NY jurors - seven women and five men - whose identities were kept secret reached a verdict after deliberating six days, sorting through what authorities called an "avalanche" of evidence gathered since the late 1980s that Guzman and his murderous Sinaloa drug cartel made billions of dollars by smuggling tons of cocaine, heroin, meth and marijuana into the U.S.

Guzman's lawyers say he was set up as a "fall guy" by Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada, a powerful drug lord from Sinaloa who remains at large.

The most detailed evidence against Guzman came from more than a dozen former associates who struck deals to cooperate with USA prosecutors.

Likewise, the trial involved the twice-daily closing of the Brooklyn Bridge to ensure safe passage for the for the parade of government vehicles transporting El Chapo from the prison to the courthouse.

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They were are asked to make 53 decisions about whether prosecutors have proven various elements of the 10-count indictment against Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.

The 61-year-old was a key player in the Mexican drug cartel landscape. Another testified how Guzman sometimes acted as his own sicario, or hitman, punishing a Sinaloan who dared to work for another cartel by kidnapping him, beating and shooting him and having his men bury the victim while he was still alive, gasping for air.

The US Justice Department said in 2017 it sought forfeiture of more than $14 billion in drug proceeds and illicit profits from Guzman.

While the trial was dominated by Guzman's persona as a near-mythical outlaw who carried a diamond-encrusted handgun and stayed one step ahead of the law, the jury never heard from Guzman himself, except when he told the judge he wouldn't testify. He escaped from a Mexican prison in 2001 in a laundry cart and again in 2015 through a tunnel.

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