Conviction of Mexican drug kingpin 'El Chapo' upheld by U.S. appeals court

Conviction of Mexican drug kingpin 'El Chapo' upheld by U.S. appeals court
By Reuters
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By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK -The Mexican drug kingpin known as "El Chapo" will stay in prison after a U.S. appeals court refused to overturn his 2019 drug trafficking conviction despite a report that jurors had tracked the case in the media during his blockbuster trial.

A three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan on Tuesday rejected 10 arguments by the defendant, whose real name is Joaquin Guzman, for a new trial, including that deplorable jail conditions undermined his defense.

"I'm sure Mr. Guzman will seek Supreme Court review," Guzman's defendant's lawyer Marc Fernich said in an email. "We're disappointed that substantial allegations of grave jury misconduct continue to be swept under the rug ... all, it appears, because of the defendant's matchless notoriety."

The office of U.S. Attorney Breon Peace in Brooklyn declined to comment.

Guzman, 64, was convicted in February 2019 of trafficking billions of dollars of drugs and conspiring to murder enemies, stemming from his role as a leader of Mexico's Sinaloa cartel.

He has been serving a life sentence at Colorado's Supermax, the most secure federal prison, and was also ordered to forfeit $12.7 billion.

Guzman's appeal focused on a Vice News article published one week after the verdict, where an unnamed juror said at least five fellow jurors followed media coverage of the trial, and lied about it to the presiding judge.

The coverage included accusations that Guzman had drugged and raped teenage girls, which Guzman's lawyers denied and U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan refused to allow into the trial.

Judges in high-profile cases ordinarily instruct jurors not to follow their trials in newspapers, TV and the internet, including social media.

Circuit Judge Jon Newman said the unnamed juror's unsworn, uncorroborated statements to Vice News were not "clear, strong, substantial and incontrovertible evidence" requiring Cogan to haul jurors back for questioning.

"None of the allegations in the Vice News article shows that any juror was not impartial, harbored bias against Guzman, or was otherwise unfit to serve," Newman wrote.

Newman said Cogan had also during the trial spoken with two jurors who saw information about the case, and acted within his discretion in concluding they could be fair.

Guzman also objected to being confined after his January 2017 extradition to a small windowless cell at least 23 hours a day in the since-closed Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan.

But Newman said the jail conditions, "harsh as they were," did not make the trial unfair, citing Guzman's history of prison escapes and managing his illegal affairs from jail, and safety concerns if he lived with other inmates.

Emma Coronel Aispuro, Guzman's wife, was sentenced in November to three years in prison after she admitted to helping run his drug empire, and involvement in his July 2015 escape from a Mexican prison through a tunnel dug into his cell. Guzman was recaptured in January 2016.

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