By Brendan Pierson
NEWYORK (Reuters) – The trial of Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman on drug trafficking and conspiracy charges, which is expected to last four months, began Monday with the selection of jurors in Brooklyn federal court.
U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan, prosecutors and defence lawyers on Monday morning questioned 20 potential jurors, and have so far ruled out five. The jurors were called into the courtroom wearing stickers identifying them by number, their names withheld to protect their safety.
Guzman, sitting in the courtroom wearing a navy blue suit and an open-collared white shirt, could see them, though he seemed to pay them little attention.
Guzman, 61, formerly led the Sinaloa Cartel, named after its base in the Mexican state of Sinaloa, which became one of the most powerful drug trafficking organizations in the world.
Guzman’s nickname, a reference to his five foot, six inch (1.67 meters) height, is often translated in English as “Shorty.”
He was extradited to the United States from Mexico on Jan. 19, 2017, after escaping twice from Mexican prisons before being captured again.
U.S. prosecutors say that as the head of the Sinaloa Cartel, Guzman directed the movement of multi-ton shipments of drugs including heroin, cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine across borders and into the United States. If convicted, he faces life in prison.
The potential jurors had previously filled out written questionnaires, and much of the questioning on Monday concerned their responses. One of those dismissed was a woman who had written on her questionnaire, “Drugs are bad for you.”
“I feel very badly about drugs,” she said, when Cogan asked about the answer.
Another man was sent away after admitting that he had read about the case on Wikipedia after receiving his jury summons. Others were excused because of personal ties to law enforcement, scheduling conflicts and concerns about lost income.
Those still in the running include a self-described professional impersonator of the late pop star Michael Jackson. Prosecutors have asked that he be excused because his job could make him easy to identify.
Jury selection is expected to continue in the afternoon.
Many of the questions were routine in any criminal case, including whether jurors had strong feelings about law enforcement or witnesses testifying under cooperation agreements with prosecutors.
One recurring theme was the legalization of marijuana: several jurors said they supported it, but when questioned said they could be impartial when weighing marijuana charges.
(Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Susan Thomas and Alistair Bell)