Lawyers and the judge presiding over the upcoming trial of alleged Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera finished picking a jury on Wednesday, but faced a rebellion from one of the chosen jurors over safety issues.
U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan told lawyers that one woman on the anonymous panel of seven women and five men met with him right after being picked, wept and expressed fears that she would be identified and targeted for serving at the trial of an allegedly violent drug kingpin.
The judge called it an “open rebellion,” but finally decided to leave her on the panel until the start of trial next week and told her she would “just have to get used to it” after prosecutors and defense lawyers for Guzmán agreed it would set a bad precedent to let her go.
“Our concern is that if one gets off with a few tears, we’re going to have a trail of tears,” said Jeffrey Lichtman, the lawyer for Guzmán, according to a pool report of the proceedings.
Guzmán, extradited from Mexico last year, is charged with running a $14 billion cocaine trafficking operation and controlling his empire through violence and intimidation. In addition to anonymity, Cogan has banned the public from the questioning of prospective jurors and allowed only five reporters.
On Wednesday lawyers for both sides exercised their peremptory challenges to winnow 40 jurors screened for bias and hardship down to 12 who will hear the case, and six alternates.
In a reflection of Guzmán’s fame, most of the chosen jurors had said during questioning that they knew about him through news reports or television crime shows, according to the pool report.
Two said they were Spanish speakers, at least three were immigrants — from Poland, Asia and Ethiopia — and one had a son who was a cop, according to the pool report.
During jury selection earlier this week, prospective jurors who were struck included a man who asked a court officer if he could get an autograph from Guzmán and another who discussed a sandwich at a deli in his neighborhood called the “el Chapo.” Several had safety concerns.
During jury selection earlier this week, struck prospective jurors included a man who asked a court officer if he could get an autograph from Guzmán, another man who discussed a sandwich at a deli in his neighborhood called the “el Chapo.” Several had safety concerns.
Separately, Cogan has received a request from Guzmán's lawyers for Guzmán to be allowed to share a "hug" with his wife in court before his trial starts. Guzmán has been held in high-security conditions cut off from his family since arriving in New York. Cogan has not yet ruled.
Opening statements in the trial are scheduled for Tuesday.