No Change of Venue for El Chapo on Brooklyn Murder Charges

BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) – A federal judge refused Tuesday to move the federal trial of Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman out of Brooklyn.

In this Feb. 22, 2014, file photo, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman is escorted to a helicopter in handcuffs by Mexican navy marines at a navy hanger in Mexico City. Mexico’s government extradited Guzman on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017, to the U.S. to face drug-trafficking and other charges. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo, File)

Holding a brief status conference this morning, U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan was enigmatic about why he denied the motion to hold Guzman’s trial in Manhattan.

Noting only that it was “for reasons that I’m not going to state at this time,” Cogan assured the lawyers that “particular conditions … will be arranged to alleviate the concerns [they] raised.” Cogan also directed counsel to sign a nondisclosure agreement with court marshals.

With prosecutors holding Guzman in a top-security lower Manhattan prison, the defense argued that the public spectacle of hauling their client every day across the Brooklyn Bridge for trial would suggest to the jury that Guzman is dangerous.

Convicted of murder and drug-trafficking decades ago in Mexico, Guzman has spent the last 22 months in New York awaiting a November 2018 trial on U.S. charges that could put him away for life. The notorious drug lord escaped from two high-security Mexican prisons before his extradition to the United States.

Outside the courthouse, Guzman’s attorney William Purpura could only speculate about where his client might end up during the 16-week trial.

“At this point we assume, based on the court’s comments, that the Marshal Service will facilitate keeping, housing Mr. Joaquin here for the trial days,” Purpura told reporters.

“Whether he’ll return back to Manhattan for the weekends, we’re not sure,” Purpura added. “They’ve done that before in other proceedings and I’m sure they’ll do the same here, they’ll build a facility here.”

Emma Coronel Aispuro (center) prepares to address reporters on April 17, 2018, after a pretrial hearing for her husband, incarcerated drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. On either side of Coronel are Guzman’s attorneys, A. Eduardo Balarezo and William Pupura. (AMANDA OTTAWAY, Courthouse News Service)

Asked whether “here” meant at the courthouse itself or at a prison elsewhere in the borough, Purpura did not specify.

“I would think a facility very close to the courthouse, to avoid any issues with the travel,” he said.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Marshals Service said in an email Tuesday that the service “does not disclose any personal information, location held, court scheduling or other inmate information other than to verify an inmate is in federal custody.”

Subjected to solitary confinement, Guzman is being held in the most secure wing of the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan. Across the river in Brooklyn, the Metropolitan Detention Center is about 3 miles from the Eastern District courthouse where Guzman’s trial will be held.

The fourth superseding indictment in the case charges Guzman with 17 counts including murder conspiracy for his leadership of a multibillion drug empire.

Purpura said in court today that conviction on any one of the charges carries a life sentence.

“He has but one life,” Purpura argued.

Guzman, looking pale as he has for most court appearances, wore navy prison scrubs and waved to his wife — Emma Coronel, seated in the second row — as he entered court. Afterward, possibly waiting for her car, Coronel lounged on a dolly in the courthouse coffee-and-candy stand, a place frequented by a panoply of newly naturalized citizens, judges, defense attorneys and journalists.

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