After his two legendary escapes from prison, many doubted that Mexican kingpin El Chapo would ever come to justice for the crimes committed by his vast drug empire. But today, jury members at a federal district court in Brooklyn found Joaquín Guzmán Loera guilty on all 10 counts, leaving the cartel boss facing a life sentence.
El Chapo’s tribunal has been one of the more dramatic court hearings in recent history. During the course of three months, witnesses described him fleeing naked from Mexican marines, smuggling 200 tons of cocaine into the United States, and bribing then-president of Mexico Enrique Peña Nieto with $100 million to slow attempts to capture him. Court documents suggested that El Chapo also drugged and raped adolescent girls. It is estimated that he took in over $14 billion throughout the years from his criminal activities.
At times, court proceedings took a dramatic turn best likened to one of Mexico’s world-famous telenovelas. One of Guzmán’s several girlfriends, Lucero Guadalupe Sánchez López, testified against him, detailing the way she helped him run the cartel’s drug business. Despite compromising text messages between the two that were entered into court record, the New York Times reported that Guzmán and his wife Emma Coronel Aispuro wore “matching burgundy velvet smoking jackets” to court during one of the days Sánchez was on the witness stand. Upon hearing the court’s verdict on Tuesday, Coronel flashed El Chapo a thumb-up.
The verdict marks the end of a police persecution that began in earnest in 1993, when El Chapo was blamed by Mexican authorities for the airport murder of Cardinal Juan Jesús Posadas Ocampo. But the country’s law enforcement seemed incapable of keeping Guzmán behind bars, and he escaped two times — once in 2001, apparently in a laundry cart and one in 2014, when conspirators built him a mile-long tunnel through his jail cell shower.
Guzmán was extradited to the United States in 2017. According to Alan Feuer of the New York Times, who was assigned to cover the case, Guzmán’s US prosecution called upon a vast network of law enforcement from the FBI, DEA, Coast Guard, Department of Homeland Security, federal prosecutors, local US police officers, and government entities in Ecuador, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic.
In a post-trial press conference, Guzmán’s lawyers told reporters that they would be appealing the court’s verdict, possibly based upon El Chapo’s extradition and the restrictions they faced on cross-examining the prosecution’s witnesses. The defense team was able to present its case in a total of 30 minutes.
His legal team wanted to make it clear that the decisive court findings were not due to a lack of effort on their part. “We fought like hell,” said El Chapo attorney Jeff Lichtman in a post-trial press conference. “We fought like complete savages and left it all on the battlefield.”
For his part, US Attorney Richard P. Donoghue drew his attention to the victims of Mexico’s War on Drugs, which President Felipe Calderon officially kicked off in 2006. In El Chapo’s convictions, Donoghue saw a victory for the families of the 100,000-plus victims. “There are those who say the war on drugs is not worth fighting,” he said. “Those people are wrong.”