BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) – Just ahead of U.S. Independence Day, a federal judge shut the door on Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman’s bid for a retrial.
Guzman, now 62, was convicted by an anonymous federal jury in February for his years-long reign over the Sinaloa cartel.
In seeking to upend that verdict, however, Guzman seized on a Vice News article that anonymously quoted a source as saying misconduct was afoot in the jury box. The source purported to be a juror in the trial and spoke about having closely monitored media reports on the proceedings as well the Twitter feeds of reporters who attended the trial. Such conduct, which the source said was widespread in the jury, is forbidden.
Cogan nevertheless rejected Guzman’s motion.
“This is not a situation where a hypothetical jury would have convicted defendant based on the news coverage that they accessed on a smartphone,” he wrote.
For Cogan, the evidence of Guzman’s guilt makes it harder for him to “show the necessary level of prejudice that would warrant a new trial.”
And there was a lot of evidence. U.S. prosecutors mounted an overwhelming case against Guzman. They called more than 50 witnesses, including over a dozen cooperators, who spoke 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.
In their April response, prosecutors maintained the Vice article was hearsay and should not affect the jury’s findings.
Jeffrey Lichtman, a lawyer for Guzman, expressed disgruntled resignation at Cogan’s decision Wednesday.
“This isn’t even remotely surprising as we’ve said from the start that the Joaquin Guzman trial was more of an inquisition, a show trial, than an exercise in true American justice,” he said in a statement.
“Even though jurors committed crimes while themselves judging Mr. Guzman, a hearing to determine the extent of the misconduct was not even ordered. … There will always be a stain of injustice on this case as the jury’s rampant misconduct was summarily swept under the rug by the Court and the government.”
The first count of Guzman’s conviction, a Continuing Criminal Enterprise charge, carried with it 27 violations. Though a conviction on that charge merely required proof of three violations, the jury decided prosecutors had proven 25. They also found him guilty on charges including drug trafficking, conspiracy, and money laundering.
As to the defense’s assertion that the outspoken juror might just have gone to the press for the attention, Cogan wrote that, if they wanted to be part of history, they would have voted to acquit the kingpin.
“Acquittal would have raised profound social, political, and legal implications that a conviction based on overwhelming evidence does not,” he asserted.
Cogan also determined the jurors’ apparent knowledge of Guzman’s alleged drugging and rape of underage girls likewise did not move the needle enough for an evidentiary hearing or new trial. The allegations were not a charge in the case, and the jury did not hear any testimony or see any evidence about them in court. Cogan decided the jurors had not allowed the knowledge they acquired elsewhere to bias their verdict.
“Although different in kind, these allegations of sexual abuse are no more gruesome and prejudicial as the overwhelming amount of evidence that the jury heard and saw about defendant threatening, torturing, and murdering people, about defendant ordering others to torture and murder people, about defendant outfitting his army of sicarios with heavy artillery … and about defendant’s use of that infantry to further his drug business,” he wrote.
“Thus, it is not as if this media coverage exposed the jury to a form of prejudicial information to which they had not already been exposed at length.”
The judge additionally dismissed Guzman’s claims that a “wholly irrelevant and almost neutral” New York Post story detailing Lichtman’s affair with another client might have swayed the jury, some of whom were aware of the piece.
“Such a jury will understand that a criminal defendant has no control over the personal conduct of his attorney,” Cogan wrote. “To think otherwise would assume less of our jurors than they deserve.”
Earlier, Cogan wrote that “a bare statement that an unidentified number of jurors monitored a journalist’s Twitter feed at unidentified times during trial is not specific enough to bring back all of the jurors to attempt to discover which of them monitored the feed, when they monitored the feed, and what on the feed they saw.”
Cogan said the information he has does not warrant further inquiry.
“The juror has already told VICE what happened, and that record is before me,” the decision states. “I need not inquire further.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York had no comment on the ruling.