Just when you believe the Bogeyman has been banished from under the bed, attorneys for Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán want to investigate the conduct of half the jury pool that convicted their client in February on a slew of heinous crimes.
In a legal brief filed earlier this week, El Chapo’s legal team cited an expose of sorts by VICE News that at least six of the empaneled jury violated Judge Brian Cogan’s explicit instructions to avoid any type of news about the trial. One juror – who asked for anonymity – spoke on the record with the internet news site, apparently feeling the need to spill all the gory details to keep the story alive.
The verbose venireman claims his fellow jurors not only watched every salacious newscast and press articles available, but brought prejudicial information not submitted into evidence to the deliberation room. The loose lipping violators discussed not only El Chapo’s trial, but also the reputation of one of the defense lawyers, who may have had an adulterous affair with a former client. How that is relevant is unclear.
But what is relevant is that El Chapo’s incredibly smart legal team saw an opening for a new trial and pounced. In part, the 24-page brief states:
“If a justice system’s measure is how it treats the most reviled and unpopular, when ours may have failed Joaquín Guzmán by denying him the fair trial before an untainted jury to which he’s constitutionally entitled. Because sunlight is the best disinfectant, that prospect merits serious consideration, close investigation, and a new trial, as appropriate.”
Justice is a tricky business.
An Impartial Jury
The 11-week trial spawned a veritable avalanche of media coverage chock full of gruesome facts related to the Sinaloa kingpin’s business practices. But it also covered the ancillary players and their unique personalities and pasts – which convolutes the trial process. Jurors were apt to be swayed by the out-of-courtroom talking heads blather.
To say the panel was less than serious in their duties is an understatement, as the loose-lipper confided to VICE News that they gave each other nicknames — Crash, Pookie, Doc, Mountain Dew, Hennessy, Starbucks, Aruba, TJ, 666, FeFe, and Loco. How festive and fun when deciding what to do about the short, chubby Sinaloa Cartel mob boss.
The leaker continued: “We were saying how we should have our own reality TV show, like ‘The Jurors on MTV’ or something like that.”
The seated jury was suspect from the beginning: Just days before opening statements, one member suffered a meltdown and had to be replaced. But who wouldn’t be anxious having to decide a notorious drug lord’s fate? The VICE News leaker was on the opposite end of spectrum and sought to be seated on “the case of the century.” The latter we can thank for cracking open the retrial door.
It’s not to say that El Chapo deserves another costly retrial when he should be headed to the Florence, Colorado supermax prison to hang with other notable terrorists and murderers – such as Boston marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and 1993 World Trade Center bombing mastermind Ramzi Yousef. But if a rogue jury is allowed to make mockery of the American legal system and throw chaos into order, we have failed.
No one likes jury duty – it pays a pitiful stipend, messes up work and personal schedules, and forces relationships with strangers of the Crash, Pookie, and Doc ilk. But it is a responsibility thrust upon the voting electorate that should be accepted and embraced as part of a free and impartial – and ostensibly blind – American justice system.
We are a nation of liberty and justice for all – and taking that system lightly will erode our freedoms. Simply stated, even the most loathed criminal of our time deserves a fair trial. If we allow this slanted jury’s verdict to stand, what will that mean for the trials of others?
The government has until April 29 to respond to the defense motion. Sentencing for El Chapo is currently scheduled for June.