FILE - In this Jan. 19, 2017 file photo provided U.S. law enforcement, authorities escort Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, center, from a plane to a waiting caravan of SUVs at Long Island MacArthur Airport, in Ronkonkoma, N.Y. (U.S. law enforcement via AP, File)

US trial to tell epic tale of Mexican drug lord “El Chapo”

Guzman’s long-awaited U.S. trial begins Tuesday in New York

During the height of Mexican drug wars in 1993, an attempted hit on Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman went wrong.

A team of gunmen sent to rub out the notorious drug lord instead killed a Roman Catholic cardinal at an airport in Guadalajara, outraging the Mexican public enough to touch off a massive manhunt for Guzman. He was captured, but prosecutors say he was undeterred from a brutal pursuit of power that lasted decades, featured jail breakouts and left a trail of bodies.

The story of the botched assassination will be part of an epic tale told in a tightly secured New York City courtroom starting Tuesday as prosecutors and defence lawyers make their opening statements in Guzman’s long-awaited U.S. trial.

Guzman, who has been held in solitary confinement since his extradition to the United States early last year, has pleaded not guilty to charges that he amassed a multi-billion-dollar fortune smuggling tons of cocaine and other drugs in a vast supply chain that reached New York, New Jersey, Texas and elsewhere north of the border.

READ MORE: Mexican drug kingpin to appear in U.S. courtroom

If convicted, he faces a possible life prison sentence.

Prosecutors have said they will use thousands of documents, videos and recordings as evidence, including material related to the Guadalajara airport shooting, drug smugglers’ safe houses, Guzman’s 2015 prison escape and the law enforcement operation to recapture him.

More than a dozen co-operating witnesses are scheduled to testify, including some who worked for Guzman’s Sinaloa cartel. Prosecutors say they risk retribution by taking the stand and the court has taken some steps to conceal their identities. U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan barred courtroom sketch artists from drawing them.

Guzman’s lawyers are expected to attack the credibility of the witnesses by emphasizing their own criminal records, saying some have an incentive to lie to win leniency in their own cases.

One of Guzman’s attorneys, Eduardo Balarezo, has suggested that he hopes to convince jurors Guzman wasn’t actually in charge of the cartel but was a lieutenant taking orders from someone else.

“Now that trial is upon us, it is time to put up or shut up,” Balarezo said.

Despite his diminutive stature and nickname that means “Shorty,” Guzman was once a larger-than-life figure in Mexico who has been compared to Al Capone and Robin Hood and been the subject of ballads called narcocorridos.

Among the highlights of his lore: how he was known for carrying a gold-plated AK-47; for smuggling cocaine in cans marked as jalapenos; for making shipments using planes with secret landing strips, container ships, speedboats and even submarines.

But Guzman is perhaps best known for escaping custody in Mexico, the first time in 2011 by hiding in the bottom of a laundry bin. He escaped again in 2015 through a mile-long tunnel dug into a shower in his jail cell that he slipped into before fleeing on a motorcycle.

Guzman’s second escape was a black eye for the Mexican government, an embarrassment amplified when the actor Sean Penn was able to find and interview him at one of his hideouts in Mexico while he was on the run from authorities.

Guzman extradition to New York City shook up Mexico’s drug underworld.

Mexican security analyst Alejandro Hope said it created “something of a civil war within the Sinaloa cartel” that has essentially ended with the arrest of internal rivals and allowed his sons to take control of what remains a “weakened” but far-from-finished smuggling operation.

Hope said he has seen no sign that Guzman’s extradition and jailing in the U.S. had a major impact on drug flows or routes.

“But symbolically I think it’s important. It’s a bit of an end of an era. There are very few kingpins of that size left, of that importance,” Hope said. “We are actually leaving behind that era, the era of the kingpin.” Smaller gangs now dominate, he said.

Raul Benitez, a security expert and professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, said Guzman’s oversized myth has been fading, too.

In Mexico, news stories about Guzman’s trial have been prominent in the media even though it’s viewed by some as old history.

“He is totally isolated. He cannot approach anyone. His wife was not even able to approach him. So he is now out of the game,” Benitez said, referring to an order by the judge banning Guzman’s wife from hugging him in the courtroom during the trial.

Whether he is out for good will be decided by anonymous jury of seven women and five men who will decide the case. The trial is expected to last into next year.

The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Ponoka Food Bank doubles number of hampers given away last month

Comparing the first two weeks in November in 2018 and 2019

PHOTOS: It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas …

Winter wonderland of lights: Everywhere you go in Ponoka, people are getting… Continue reading

Ponoka family physician retiring after 40 years of service to community

Dr. Brendan Bunting is hanging up his stethoscope after 40 years as… Continue reading

“Ponoka Civic Centre” is now the official name of Ponoka town hall building

Signage will also feature Cree word “mamawayawin”

Ponoka County struck by large amount of unpaid property taxes

CAO now has some discretion in cancelling certain tax penalties

VIDEO: Federal Liberals’ throne speech welcomes opposition’s ideas

Trudeau will need NDP or Bloc support to pass legislation and survive confidence votes

Wanted man resists arrest, found in possession of machetes

Donovan Rain of Maskwacis facing multiple charges

Final appeal rejected for man convicted in deaths of missing Alberta seniors

Lyle and Marie McCann were in their 70s when they left their home in St. Albert in 2010 and vanished

Infants should be tested for autism if older siblings are diagnosed, Canadian study suggests

Blood test for infants with sibling who’s been diagnosed would get information to families earlier

Rural Alberta gets more police officers, but must pay for them directly

Premier wants areas to pay portion of overall costs on rising scale to bring in extra $200M by 2024

Two vehicle Hwy 11 collision results in 2 dead

Blackfalds RCMP were dispatched to a serious collision on Highway 11

Rebels win second in row 5-2 over Moose Jaw

32 saves from Goalie Byron Fancy leads the way for Red Deer

Nearly 40% of Canadians want creationism taught in schools: poll

23% of Canadians believe God created humans in the past 10,000 years

Blackfalds RCMP lay charges following fatal pedestrian collision

35-year-old male died in the hospital as a result of injuries

Most Read