By Brendan Pierson
NEW YORK (Reuters) – A U.S. federal judge said Tuesday he planned to call 800 to 1,000 potential jurors for the trial of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, in a sign of how complex it will be to try drug the Mexican drug lord on trafficking and conspiracy charges.
U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan in Brooklyn said at a court hearing that the potential jurors would arrive court in late July and early August to receive questionnaires, in preparation for a planned September trial.
The unusual size of the pool reflects the expected difficulty of choosing jurors to weigh the fate of Guzman, who gained international notoriety as the leader of Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel. Typical cases involve much smaller jury pools.
Guzman is accused of running a massive cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine trafficking operation, fueling a decade-long drug war in Mexico in which more than 100,000 people have died.
Prosecutors have said jurors might fear for their safety, and Cogan ordered in February that their identities should be kept secret.
Guzman, 61, has been held in solitary confinement since he was extradited to the United States in January 2017. He had been arrested by Mexican authorities a year earlier.
His wife, Emma Coronel Aispuro, talked to reporters in the United States about the case for the first time after Tuesday’s hearing, saying she had not been allowed to visit Guzman and worried about his health.
Guzman’s lawyers have said in court filings that his mental and physical health has deteriorated during his time in solitary confinement.
During the hearing, Guzman’s lawyer, Eduardo Balarezo, asked Cogan to limit the amount of new evidence prosecutors could bring into the case before trial, saying they had failed to turn over evidence promptly.
“According to them, they’ve been investigating Mr. Guzman since the ’80s,” Balarezo said. “At some point they have to put it on the table.”
Cogan said he was also concerned that prosecutors had not been meeting court-ordered deadlines for producing evidence. He ordered them to turn over most of their remaining evidence by May 18.
Balarezo also brought up a motion he had filed to bar the government from introducing evidence of payments to Guzman’s lawyers as evidence of Guzman’s “unexplained wealth.” He said that would conflict with Guzman’s right to legal representation, and that if the evidence were allowed, it might prevent Guzman’s current lawyers from remaining on the case.
The judge said he would consider the motion in short order.
(Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Alistair Bell)