Skewering El Chapo Article, US Says Hearsay Must Not Drive Retrial

Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman is escorted from a plane to a waiting caravan of SUVs at Long Island MacArthur Airport, in Ronkonkoma, N.Y., on Jan. 19, 2017. (Photo via U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration)

BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) – Contesting the retrial bid by Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, U.S. prosecutors told a federal judge Monday that Vice News reporting is not enough to prove jury misconduct.

Vice posted the story by reporter Keegan Hamilton in February, saying an anonymous juror in the El Chapo trial had detailed work by multiple jurors to seek outside information about the case, in direct violation of orders from U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan.

The source allegedly provided notes that should not have been kept after the verdict and purported to have been one of multiple jurors who closely monitored the Twitter feeds of reporters covering the trial.

After Guzman’s lawyers called in March for an evidentiary hearing into the allegations of juror misconduct, the government fired back Monday night with a nearly 100-page memo that calls Hamilton’s story “uncorroborated” and “unsworn hearsay and double-hearsay.” 

“These dubious allegations-which are contradicted by the trial record in material respects and which the Alleged Juror did not bring to the attention of the court, despite ample opportunity to do so-do not meet the stringent standard of ‘clear, strong, substantial and incontrovertible evidence’ required for a post-verdict evidentiary hearing,” U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue wrote. 

Cogan instructed jurors every day of Guzman’s trial to stay away from media coverage of the case, including on social media. In Monday’s filing, prosecutors said Vice’s report of juror misconduct is undercut by several instances where jurors self-reported slip-ups. 

Some of their examples were redacted, but prosecutors shared how one juror informed Cogan’s deputy that one of her children had told her Guzman might testify in his own defense.

“These incidents indicate that the jurors were aware of the court’s instructions and followed them closely,” the brief states. “This last incident also shows that the jurors were aware of their obligations to stay away from any media concerning the case and took the Court’s instructions regarding media exposure seriously.”

The filing also points to 14 notes the jury sent during six days of deliberations, asking clarifying questions and requesting specific evidence.

“The jury’s notes indicate that the jury engaged in a thorough deliberative process, focused on the evidence and testimony, prior to reaching a verdict,” the brief states.

Guzman’s trial lasted for three months. After 35 hours of deliberations, the jury convicted Guzman on Feb. 12 on all 10 counts of drug trafficking, continuing criminal enterprise and weapons charges. 

The Vice News article is attached as an exhibit in the filing, which otherwise details the evidence that led a jury to find that Guzman was “a ruthless, bloodthirsty and cruel leader of the prolific Sinaloa Cartel.”

“Collectively, fourteen cooperating witnesses testified that the defendant was a leader of the Sinaloa Cartel and that he was responsible for the importation or attempted importation into the United States of at least 1,213,100 kilograms of cocaine, 1,440 kilograms of cocaine base, 222 kilograms of heroin and 49,800 kilograms of marijuana-drugs worth billions of dollars,” the brief states.

On Tuesday morning, Guzman’s attorneys asked to file a response to Monday’s government memo by May 29.

The 18 Guzman jurors – 12, with six alternates – were anonymous to almost everyone, including both parties, the press, and even each other. They were driven back and forth from the Brooklyn courthouse by U.S. marshals and sequestered from the public once they were inside.

While Vice confirmed that Hamilton’s source was a juror in the trial, the court’s effort to protect the jury’s anonymity means that the press cannot contact them to corroborate the story. Hamilton said his source told him no one else wanted to speak on the record.

Guzman’s sentencing is scheduled for June 25. 

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