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‘El Chapo’ jurors’ identities to be secret, judge says

Joaquin

Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is escorted from a plane to a waiting caravan of SUVs at Long Island MacArthur Airport on Jan. 19, 2017, in Ronkonkoma. Credit: AP

A Brooklyn federal judge on Tuesday approved prosecutors’ request for an anonymous and partly sequestered jury for the upcoming trial of accused Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera.

U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan said the history of violence by the Sinaloa cartel allegedly controlled by Guzmán and the high media profile of the case required anonymity to protect jurors from fear and improper influence.

“The indictment alleges that the defendant, as a leader of the Sinaloa cartel, employed ‘sicarios,’ or hit men, who carried out acts of violence, including murders, assaults and kidnappings,” Cogan wrote.

He also cited reports that a California prison gang has volunteered to protect Guzmán while he is in the United States.

Cogan said jurors’ identities will be kept secret from both the media and defense lawyers during jury selection and the trial, now scheduled for September, and jurors will be taken to and from the courthouse by federal marshals.

Defense lawyers argued that anonymity will limit their ability to effectively question prospective jurors during voir dire, and prejudice selected jurors by making them think Guzmán is dangerous.

To avoid the latter, Cogan said he would mislead the panel by saying the anonymity is designed to protect their privacy.

Guzmán was extradited to New York last year after twice escaping prisons in Mexico. He is charged with cocaine trafficking.

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