With the trial of Sinaloa Cartel kingpin Joaquín Guzmán Loera, alias “El Chapo,” set to begin on November 5, fears over whether jurors and witnesses can be kept safe are fueling an already crazy media circus and making little sense in the process.
The latest threat is that members of the Sinaloa Cartel could infiltrate the trial by either posing as press with fake credentials or by blackmailing real journalists to help them, El Universal reported.
Prosecutors are going to extraordinary lengths in order to keep any information about witnesses and jurors secret in the trial of El Chapo, according to The New York Times.
And in February, they convinced judge Brian M. Cogan to keep the identity of the jury safe throughout the entire trial. The jurors will also be driven to and from their homes by armed federal marshals.
SEE ALSO: Sinaloa Cartel News and Profile
Meanwhile, the witnesses who are in jail have been placed under extreme protective custody while others have been instructed to “cut off all ties with family and friends in order to maintain the highest levels of protection.”
Guzmán Loera’s defense lawyer, Eduardo Balarezo, has denied there is any reason for such protections. In January, he claimed that his client would be incapable of imparting orders about anything, much less an assassination, given his near constant isolation within prison. Balarezo has also claimed these are tactics deployed by the prosecution to unfairly influence the trial.
In response, prosecutors accused him of “endangering a witness” by recently mentioning the witness’ name in a text message.
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Without more information, it is hard to make sense of both sides’ assertions.
Although the Sinaloa Cartel did allegedly kill a federal judge overseeing El Chapo’s case while he was out jogging in 2016, as well as murder the father of two witnesses in 2009, attacking jurors or witnesses in the US would be on another level and highly unlikely given the magnitude of this case. Witness tampering happens but is rare in cases of this level; juror tampering is even less common.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of El Chapo
Tampering with witnesses may be a moot point anyway, since most international drug cases also enter a large amount of forensic evidence, from bank statements to transcripts of intercepted phone calls, which is often much more reliable and important than human memory.
On the other hand, Balarezo’s assertion that prosecutors are trying to sway the jury by taking these precautions also makes little sense, since a threat would make them less likely to convict. It is also ironic, coming from a media-savvy personality who has gained fame by representing other drug kingpins.