MANHATTAN (CN) — At the conclusion of a sweeping drug-trafficking trial that would put the notorious kingpin El Chapo behind bars for the rest of his life, an open-records request led to media reports about evidence withheld from trial to avoid prejudicing the jury.
Because one juror claims to have seen the evidence anyway — thanks to a steady diet of trial coverage via Twitter — El Chapo pushed the Second Circuit on Monday to order a do-over.
“I mean, this guy is going to be in a box for the rest of his natural life. I’m not asking you to play violins for him. I’m not playing violins for him either,” attorney Marc Fernich told a three-judge panel in Manhattan this afternoon.
“This is his last shot and he has the right to have this answered.”
Jurors deliberated for just 35 hours before convicting the Sinaloa cartel leader whose real name is Joaquín Guzmán Loera on all 10 counts following a trial that stretched from late 2019 into early 2020, eliciting testimony from more than 50 witnesses, including over a dozen cooperators, about drugs and weapons they had trafficked, as well as money laundered, with and for El Chapo. They told of their days gifting expensive guns to one another, flying around in private planes and helicopters, and sometimes sampling the drugs they moved.
Days after the jury delivered that verdict, however, a Vice article quoted one anonymous juror as saying that the great lengths taken by El Chapo's judge in to see that he received a fair trial in Brooklyn "were routinely broken."
“We would constantly go to your media, your Twitter… I personally and some other jurors that I knew,” the juror told reporter Keegan Hamilton, who wrote that he recognized the juror from trial and requested anonymity "for obvious reasons."
Fernich, the attorney for El Chapo, acknowledged Monday that it would take some work to investigate the veracity of the juror’s admissions. He suggested that the court could do so by questioning the entire panel and its alternates, on the condition of immunity.
The evidence concealed from El Chapo's trial on the basis that it might be prejudicial involved testimony from a witness who said that Guzmán had used a “powdery substance” to drug and rape girls as young as 13. Chapo called the girls “vitamins” because they gave him “life,” according to the witness.
U.S. District Judge Brian M. Cogan took precautions during trial to make sure jurors would not consider the filing in their deliberations. But the juror interviewed by Vice said that five jurors and two alternates heard about the child rape allegations — and after briefly discussing what they had seen, they agreed not to tell the judge.
“I thought we would get arrested,” the juror told Vice. “I thought they were going to hold me in contempt. … I didn't want to say anything or rat out my fellow jurors. I didn't want to be that person. I just kept it to myself, and I just kept on looking at your Twitter feed.”
The juror said the conversation about the allegations lasted five minutes and didn’t factor into the verdict. Vice ran Hamilton's interview with the juror about a week after the trial ended. Judge Cogan later sentenced Guzmán to life in prison plus 30 years.
On Monday, Fernich argued that, in part because of “breathtaking jury misconduct,” his client’s fate was sealed before deliberations began, setting a dangerous precedent for future high-profile prosecutions.
“Society can ill afford the impression of a two-tiered justice system,” Fernich said.
Maybe the juror who talked to Vice was simply a “wackjob” who wanted publicity, he mused. But maybe not.