El Chapo Lawyer Claims Witnesses Lied to Jurors

In this courtroom sketch, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, center, listens as a prosecutor delivers closing arguments on Jan. 30, 2019, in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) – In closing arguments at the trial of a man with one of the most notorious nicknames in drug trafficking history, a lawyer for Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman gave nicknames to a few others – including “dishonest garbage” and “bottomless pit of immorality.”

Jeffrey Lichtman, who represents the accused drug kingpin alongside Eduardo Balarezo and William Purpura, spent the better part of his four-hour summation Thursday systematically bashing the cooperating witnesses who testified against his client during the 11-week trial.

He called them “animals,” “bad people,” trained “seals,” “liars,” “killers,” “degenerates,” and the “worst criminals ever.” He dubbed one “a sad female” and others “repulsive, dishonest garbage;” an “utter animal;” a “wild, vicious animal;” and a “bottomless pit of immorality.” 

Fourteen cooperators, 13 men and one woman, testified against Guzman, who’s accused of helping lead Mexico’s notorious Sinaloa Cartel. In all, over 50 witnesses took the stand for the prosecution. But both Lichtman and the prosecution focused on the cooperators in their closings. 

“It’s cooperating witnesses that gave this case life,” Lichtman said. 

Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrea Goldbarg, who has suffered from a cough since early December, opened her nearly five-hour summation Wednesday with a vivid description of Guzman’s alleged torture and murder of two rivals, which was first revealed to the jury in testimony by a cooperating witness the previous week.

She quickly moved to the crux of the case, however — a continuing criminal enterprise charge, bolstered, she said, by the testimony of the 14 cooperators. 

“We told you back in November that this case would be about drugs, about money, and about violence,” Goldbarg said. 

“The cartel engines were violence and corruption,” she told the jury of 12, plus six alternates, Wednesday morning. 

During Goldbarg’s summations, several props lay in front of the jury: rifles, nine cardboard boxes containing cocaine, and a bulletproof vest. 

Guzman faces 10 counts of money laundering, drug trafficking and conspiracy. So Goldbarg’s argument was painstaking, at times tedious – even Guzman couldn’t stifle a yawn at one point. 

“Ladies and gentlemen, we have presented an avalanche of evidence,” she told the packed courtroom as she reviewed it.  

Goldbarg used two literal checklists, one on a slideshow and one on a piece of poster board in the courtroom, to demonstrate when she had explained the evidence for each violation. 

She reminded the jury the government did not have to prove Guzman was the highest boss, or the only boss, or even a high-ranking boss, for the jury to find him guilty. Prosecutors only had to prove that Guzman was a boss in the cartel. 
Aside from telling the jury they should not trust the cooperating witnesses, Lichtman also said they should not trust the prosecutors — or the Mexican or U.S. governments. 

“I ask you,” he said, “what has blind faith in our government ever gotten us?” 

Later, he added a more dramatic version of the idea. 

“When they come for you and your loved ones, don’t complain,” he told the jury. “Go quietly. Because these prosecutors know what’s best for you.” 

Government lawyer Amanda Liskamm reminded jurors in the prosecution’s rebuttal Thursday that many cooperators’ testimonies had corroborated each other, and that their testimonies were backed by video, seized text messages, handwritten letters and ledgers, and tapped phone calls.

Lichtman argued the jury could not know for sure whether those communications were Guzman’s. 

“If you’re willing to look past the name ‘El Chapo,’ you have the tools you need to acquit,” he told the jury as he wrapped up. “You don’t have to give in to the myth of ‘El Chapo.’”

The jury will be charged and begin deliberations on Monday. 

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