Potential juror for El Chapo's trial dismissed after he admits that he's 'a bit of a fan'
U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan had to dismiss several prospective jurors because they said they feared for their lives
The jury selection for the trial of Mexican drug lord Joaquín 'El Chapo' Guzmán began this past Monday, November 4, but it's already become clear that this will be a case like no other. El Chapo's former status as the kingpin of the Sinaloa Cartel, one of the most ruthless and violent criminal organizations in the world, has put the jury selection in quite a spot. A federal judge in New York dismissed 17 potential jurors on the first day alone, five of whom had expressed fear for their lives if selected.
The process is still ongoing and the Daily Mail reported that one of the jurors dismissed from contention was a Colombian man who has spent his last 20 years in the country and had said that he wanted the 61-year-old El Chapo's autograph.
The man, who was not identified, is a native of Medellín — infamously the home of Pablo Escobar, who the Mexican would go on to replace as the world's most wanted man — and assured judges that he would be impartial during the trial. However, when he requested a court security officer for assistance to get the drug lord's autograph, he was immediately dismissed.
When questioned on the incident, he admitted that he was "a bit of a fan". The remark is said to have caused a smile to break out on El Chapo's face, with his lawyers then working to have the Colombian on the jury. But the possible bias involved meant that the judge had no choice but to rule him out.
U.S District Judge Brian Cogan has a difficult task on his hands considering the high-profile nature of the case. Of the jurors dismissed so far, one was reportedly a woman who was "crying profusely" in the hall because her mother had said that they would have to now get a new house.
Another had to be taken to the hospital after suffering a panic attack, while a third was rejected because he confessed he often ordered an 'El Chapo' sandwich at a local deli, which he said would make him easily identifiable. Some of the more odd dismissals involved a potential juror who was a Michael Jackson impersonator and a woman who admitted she watched popular Netflix crime-drama 'Narcos'.
The level of secrecy and security around the trial is unprecedented. After all 12 are selected, the jurors will be wearing numbers which will help identify them, and each will be escorted to and from the courthouse every day by U.S. Marshals. Furthermore, their names, addresses, and occupations will be kept from the public to prevent bribes and foil potential hit men. CBS reports that they will also be partially sequestered for the duration of what is expected to be a four-month-long trial.
El Chapo's lawyers have protested the measures, claiming that the increased security measures will create an unfair impression that their client is a violent man. "He's a mythical figure at this point. And if you read the books, the many books that have been written about him, even by the agents in the case, they even discuss it – they don't know what was real and what wasn't real," said his lawyer, Jeffrey Lichtman.
Because the 59-year-old had previously escaped captivity from Mexican prisons on two separate occasions — one famously involved riding a motorcycle through a mile-long underground tunnel — he was extradited to the U.S in January 2017 on his recapture.
He has been heavily guarded by federal agents since and U.S. Marshals have even shut down parts of the Brooklyn Bridge so he can be moved without incident from his Manhattan cell for all his pretrial hearings.
Federal prosecutors have alleged that the 61-year-old, apart from leading the Sinaloa Cartel, had trafficked an estimated $14 billion in drugs into the U.S. He was arrested and extradited in January 2017, following the two elaborate escapes from Mexican prisons.
He’s facing a 17-count indictment accusing him of multiple crimes, including drug trafficking, money launder, ng and murder. El Chapo has pleaded not guilty to all 17 counts brought against him. If convicted, he faces a mandatory minimum sentence of life in prison. Meanwhile, the jury selection continues.