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'El Chapo' juror says panelists regularly broke judge's order

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Image: The accused Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman in Brooklyn
The accused Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is seen in this courtroom sketch on the day he was found guilty of smuggling drugs to the United States, in Brooklyn federal court in New York on Feb. 12, 2019. -
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Jane Rosenberg Reuters file
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Jurors in the federal trial of Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzmán regularly violated a judge's order to avoid news reports about the case as it was playing out in court, one of the panelists reportedly said.

Vice News claimed it videotaped a lengthy interview with the one anonymous member of the 12-person panel, who reached out to the news magazine via e-mail a day after the trial ended.

Vice also said that its reporter who covered the case made a positive ID of the panelist, after watching the jury for months in open court.

The story,posted by Vice News on Wednesday, also used gender-neutral terms to describe the juror and used "they" in referring to the single panelist.

At least five jurors were regular consumers of Guzmán news, according to the panelist.

"You know how we were told we can't look at the media during the trial? Well, we did," the juror said to the Vice News reporter.

"We would constantly go to your media, your Twitter… I personally and some other jurors that I knew."

Jurors on Feb. 12 found the Sinaloa cartel leader guilty on each of the 10 charges he was tried on, including engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise and multiple counts of distributing large amounts of narcotics internationally.

Just before deliberations began, previously sealed court documents were unearthed and showed that one witness, not called to the stand, accused Guzmán of regularly raping young women and girls as young as 13.

Jurors not only saw that story in news media, they lied to U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan when asked about it, according to the panelist.

"I had told them if you saw what happened in the news, just make sure that the judge is coming in and he's gonna ask us, so keep a straight face," the juror said. "So he did indeed come to our room and ask us if we knew, and we all denied it, obviously."

The juror insisted that the horrifying accusation, and other media reports on the case, did not impact the final verdicts.

"We did talk about it. Jurors were like, you know, 'If it was true, it was obviously disgusting, you know, totally wrong. But if it's not true, whatever, it's not true,' " the juror recalled to Vice News.

"That didn't change nobody's mind for sure. We weren't really hung up on that. It was just like a five-minute talk and that's it, no more talking about that."

Juror, fearing their names could someday become public, even refused to call each other by names.

They developed nicknames for each other such as Crash, Pookie, Doc, Mountain Dew, Hennessy, Starbucks, Aruba, TJ, 666, FeFe, and Loco in the jury room.

The juror said they took no joy in convicting Guzmán after six days of deliberations, knowing it would send him away for the rest of his life.

"We were all pretty sad, in a way," the juror said. "Before I even entered the room to read the verdict, I was about to have a panic attack. I was really nervous. I was shaking."

Defense lawyer Jeffrey Lichtman said he was particularly concerned that jurors heard of the sex-assault allegations against his client. Even before Wednesday's revelations, Guzman's defense had vowed to appeal.

"Jurors apparently lied to the court repeatedly about not reading press reports of Mr. Guzman's trial as well as ignoring orders to stay away from highly prejudicial — and uncorroborated — allegations against our client which were not part of the evidence in this case," Lichtman said in a statement.

"All we ever wanted for Mr. Guzmán was a fair trial and that's all we deserved. We will continue to seek justice for him."

Representatives for Cogan and Dora Irizarry, the chief judge of U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, declined to comment.