The men and women picked to be jurors for the trial of drug kingpin Joaquin Guzman—better known by his alias El Chapo—have been granted special protections due to his notorious reputation.
A New York judge ruled Monday that there were “strong and credible reasons to believe the jury needs protection” and said that anyone chosen to be a juror would be anonymous and partially sequestered.
The ruling means jurors will remain hidden from the public inside the courthouse, will be escorted to and from the trial, and their personal details will not be revealed to the defense, prosecution, or the press.
Although the Mexican druglord hasn’t been charged with any violent crime, the indictment against him alleges that he employed hitmen as leader of the Sinaloa cartel, which, according to the judge’s ruling, carried out “hundreds” of violent acts, “including murders, assaults, and kidnappings.”
Guzman’s indictment claims he used the hitmen, known as “sicaros,” to punish disloyal members of the cartel and to protect members from arrest by “silencing potential witnesses and retaliating against those who provided information to law enforcement.”
As such, the judge agreed with the government that the indictment against Guzman would “cause a juror to reasonably fear for his or her own safety” and therefore warranted a very rare anonymous and partially sequestered jury.
The judge also noted that jurors were likely to experience significant media attention and that there appears to be people “apparently not under the defendant’s control” who have expressed a desire to help Guzman.
The judge specifically noted a group of prisoners in California who released a video pledging to be “hitmen who are going to take care” of him, adding that he had “more than 3,500 soldiers” willing to help.
Guzman’s attorney opposed the motion for an anonymous jury, saying previously that jurors have nothing to fear and that granting anonymity would unfairly prejudice the jurors against Guzman.
Eduardo Balarezo said last week: “Such an order would unduly burden Mr. Guzman’s presumption of innocence, impair his ability to conduct meaningful voir dire [examination of potential jurors], and create the extremely unfair impression that he is a dangerous person from whom the jury must be protected.”
Guzman has pleaded not guilty to a 17-count indictment alleging that he led a global drug-smuggling operation as the leader of the Sinaloa cartel from 1984 to 2014 and was responsible for violence against rivals.
The trial will kick off in September.