Jurors selected for marathon US El Chapo drugs trial
Twelve jurors and six alternates were selected Wednesday to decide the fate of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, one of the most notorious criminals in the world, on trial in New York for smuggling drugs into the United States over a quarter of a century.
The seven women and five men will determine whether Guzman is guilty on 11 trafficking, firearms and money laundering charges, which could see him spend the rest of his life behind bars.
The 12 include at least three immigrants and three who speak Spanish fluently.
Almost all of them had already heard of him before being called to jury duty at the Brooklyn federal court.
Several have relatives who work in law enforcement or as prison guards and one juror is a retired prison guard.
Most have seen Netflix drama "Narcos" based on the life of the late Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, or another television drama series about Guzman produced by Netflix and Univision.
The jury will be sworn in next Tuesday, when opening statements are scheduled to begin as the trial moves into its substantive phase, expected to last for more than four months.
Several potential jurors who expressed security concerns were dismissed earlier this week, as was a man who admitted asking for Guzman's autograph and a Michael Jackson impersonator, for fear that he was too identifiable.
"We're satisfied with the jury that has been selected," said defense lawyer Eduardo Balarezo. "We trust they'll do their duty."
Guzman, dressed in a blue suit and blue shirt, took notes and appeared attentive, but has otherwise been impassive during jury selection.
The names of the jurors will be kept anonymous under the strict security arrangements accompanying the trial.
They will be partially sequestered, escorted to and from court every day by armed US Marshalls.
El Chapo faces biggest US drugs trial
Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman goes on trial in New York on Monday, accused of running the world's biggest drug cartel and spending a quarter of a century smuggling more than 155 tons of cocaine into the United States.
The mammoth trial in Brooklyn, which will cost millions of dollars and is expected to last more than four months, will see one of the world's most notorious criminals face the US justice system.
Prosecutors spent years piecing together a sweeping case against Guzman, who was extradited in 2017 after twice escaping prison in Mexico - first hidden in a laundry cart, then slipping down a tunnel that reached his prison shower.
Experts say the government has a near water-tight case likely to send Guzman, 61, to a maximum-security US prison for the rest of his life, after jury selection kicks off on Monday. But at what price?
The Sinaloa cartel that Guzman founded in 1989 is still hugely powerful.
His co-defendant Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada remains at large, and violent drug trafficking continues unabated in Mexico.
Jury selection will be conducted in the tightest security reserved only for the most dangerous defendants. US District Court Judge Brian Cogan will preside over the process behind closed doors.
'Most expensive trial in history'
The 12 jurors, with six alternates, will remain anonymous.
US Marshals will escort them to and from the federal court every day.
These ordinary men and women will determine whether Guzman - the diminutive father of two whose nickname means "shorty" - is guilty or not of 11 trafficking, firearms and money laundering charges.
According to the indictment, the Sinaloa cartel, which Guzman is accused of leading from 1989 to 2014, became "the largest drug trafficking organization in the world... with thousands of members."
US prosecutors contend that from 1989 to 2014, the cartel smuggled at least 340,892 pounds (154,626 kilograms) of cocaine into the United States, as well as heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana, raking in $14 billion.
Guzman pleads not guilty, but the government has presented so much evidence - more than 300,000 pages and at least 117,000 audio recordings - that the defense complains they haven't had enough time to review it all.
"It's probably set up to be the most expensive trial in the history of the US," says Rob Heroy, a North Carolina lawyer who has defended other Mexican drug barons.
The price tag includes protection programs for at least some of the several hundred witnesses expected to testify.
Even Guzman's lawyers are in the dark as to all the former associates, hired hands or rivals who have turned informants.
Some of the informants have already been absorbed into the US witness protection program, given new identities.
Others are already in jail, housed in special wings to protect them from reprisals.
Guzman has been held in solitary confinement in New York since Mexico extradited him in January 2017, one day before Donald Trump took office. He spends 23 hours a day in his cell.
The only visitors he is allowed are his lawyers and twin, seven-year-old daughters, from whom he is separated by thick glass.
The judge has banned his 29-year-old beauty queen wife, Emma Coronel, from visiting.
Instead, she has attended almost all his pre-trial hearings, waving and blowing him kisses from the gallery.
Arrested for the first time in Guatemala in 1993, El Chapo spent more than seven years in a Mexican prison before his first escape in 2001.
Re-arrested by Mexican marines in February 2014, he escaped again 14 months later.
Guzman was re-captured in January 2016 after a visit from Hollywood actor Sean Penn and a Mexican actress, who wanted to make a film about his life, allowed Mexican authorities to trace his whereabouts.
This time, Mexico decided to wash their hands and put him on a plane.
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