By Brendan Pierson
NEWYORK (Reuters) – Twelve New Yorkers were chosen Wednesday to sit on the jury that will decide the fate of accused Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, whose trial on U.S. drug trafficking charges begins next week.
Among the seven women and five men are at least three immigrants, three Spanish speakers and several people with ties to law enforcement. Almost all had heard of Guzman, but said they could be impartial.
“We are satisfied with the jury that has been selected,” Eduardo Balarezo, one of Guzman’s lawyers, told reporters.
The trial, which could last up to four months, is set to begin at the federal District Court in Brooklyn with lawyers’ opening statements next Tuesday.
Guzman, 61, was long known as the leader of Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel, which became one of the most powerful drug trafficking organizations in the world. His nickname – a reference to his height at five-feet, six-inches (1.67 m) – is often translated in English as “Shorty.”
He was extradited to the United States on Jan. 19, 2017, after escaping twice from Mexican prisons before being recaptured.
Guzman’s lawyers have hinted they will try to prove he played a smaller role in the cartel.
U.S. prosecutors say that under Guzman’s leadership, the cartel directed massive shipments of drugs including heroin, cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine bound for the United States. If convicted, Guzman faces life in prison.
The jurors, who will remain anonymous, will be escorted into and out of the courthouse by armed federal marshals.
Prosecutors have said the security is necessary because of Guzman’s history of intimidating and even ordering murders of potential witnesses, while Guzman’s lawyers have called those claims unfounded. Several jurors were excused after they expressed fear about serving on the jury.
Those who made the cut include the niece of a former corrections officer, a South Asian man with a son in the New York Police Department and a Polish woman who said her son has had problems with drug abuse.
All knew of Guzman but one, a woman from Ethiopia who said she had “no clue” about him. Six alternate jurors were also chosen to replace any jurors who cannot complete their service.
U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan warned the jurors not to talk about the case as he dismissed them until Tuesday.
“I will see you then for what I believe will be a very interesting experience for all of you,” the judge said.
(Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York, editing by G Crosse)