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Closing Arguments Heard In Trial Of Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzmán


There were closing arguments in the trial of Joaquin El Chapo Guzman today. He's accused of being one of the most notorious drug traffickers and leader of the Mexican Sinaloa Cartel. The case now goes to the jury. If convicted, Guzman could spend the rest of his life in an American prison. NPR's Quil Lawrence was at the federal courthouse in Brooklyn, N.Y., and joins us now.

And Quil, this is after three months of proceedings. How did the prosecution sum up its case?

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: Well, that took all day yesterday, over six hours. And the prosecutor described a multibillion-dollar, multinational enterprise - an entrepreneur exporting drugs to the U.S. using at first a tunnel under the Arizona border; later using train cars filled with cooking oil that had false bottoms; building a canning factory so he could seal kilos of cocaine into La Comadre brand jalapeno chili cans, filling those with cocaine and shipping them to the United States; planes, fishing boats, submarines full of cocaine and cash - and point by point, connecting what cooperating witnesses had - and we'll talk about those in a second - what they had said with wiretaps, that Guzman allegedly set up his own secure communication system and taped and monitored everything sort of Richard Nixon-like. We can listen to a little clip of it.


JOAQUIN GUZMAN LOERA: (Speaking Spanish).

PEDRO FLORES: (Speaking Spanish).

GUZMAN: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORES: (Speaking Spanish).

LAWRENCE: Here he's just haggling over the price of heroin with a drug dealer in Chicago. But this allowed the prosecutor to say with each of these witnesses' testimony - well, how do we know that's true? Well, you heard it from his own mouth, meaning the defendant's own mouth, she was saying.

CORNISH: In the face of all this, the defense calls one witness, and that lasts 30 minutes. Can you talk more about what their closing arguments were, what their answers were to the charges?

LAWRENCE: I mean, the closing arguments were a lot longer, basically all day today. And the defense was a lot less technical than the prosecution and much more animated, discrediting these cooperating witnesses, which isn't hard because most of them are convicted drug dealers and multi-murderers. One's a notorious Colombian drug lord blamed for over a hundred murders, known as La Chupeta.

The defense attorney - he was crude at times. He was warned by the judge not to claim that the government is in some sort of a plot with these ulterior motives against El Chapo. And he kept on appealing to the jury just not to trust the government blindly. He said at some point, this isn't about justice; it's just about getting El Chapo. He said that these cooperating witnesses were going to go free in the United States in exchange for testimony. He said to the jury - they'll be free among you, so be careful. He even went a bit anti-immigrant, saying, we only bring in the best, talking about these cooperating witnesses. And he was claiming that Chapo Guzman was not the leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, but it was really his partner Mayo Zambada who was the real drug kingpin.

CORNISH: What happens now?

LAWRENCE: Well, jury deliberations will start next week. They could take a while. I mean, there's so much - three months' worth of evidence. There were boxes and boxes of evidence in the court, including AK-47s and cans of the aforementioned chilis that used to smuggle cocaine. So they might have a lot to work through. But at the same time, it seems kind of lopsided, so much prosecution evidence and so little defense. And Guzman has escaped two Mexican prisons, but they say what he fears so much is being here in the United States where it's much harder to escape from prison. So that's why he feared extradition so much.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Quil Lawrence. Quil, thanks for your reporting.

LAWRENCE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Quil Lawrence is a New York-based correspondent for NPR News, covering veterans' issues nationwide. He won a Robert F. Kennedy Award for his coverage of American veterans and a Gracie Award for coverage of female combat veterans. In 2019 Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America honored Quil with its IAVA Salutes Award for Leadership in Journalism.