Lawyers for El Chapo concerned by the juror misconduct claims

FILE – In this Monday, Feb. 4, 2019 courtroom sketch, Judge Brian Cogan right, gives instructions to the judges in the process of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman in New York. On Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019, El Chapo’s lawyers worry of potential juror misconduct and said that they were reviewing “all available options” after a judge in the infamous Mexican drug lord’s trial told a news website that several jury members looked at media coverage of the case against a judge’s orders. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

NEW YORK – El Chapo ‘ s lawyers concern of potential juror misconduct and were reviewing their options Wednesday after a member of the jury at the Mexican drug lord’s trial told a news website that several jury members looked at media coverage of the case.

The judge told VICE News that at least five members of the jury at the Joaquin Guzman the test followed news reports and Twitter feeds about the case, against a judge’s orders, and were aware of potentially harmful material that members of the jury had not been allowed to see.

Guzman, 61, was sentenced Feb. 12 on drug and conspiracy charges that could put him behind bars for the rest of his life. Jurors deliberated for six days after the three months of testimony. He is set to be sentenced in June.

Guzman’s attorney, Eduardo Balarezo, said that the issues of potential juror misconduct raised in the VICE article, “deep and poignant.”

“The judge, the allegations of the jury’s repeated and widespread disregard and contempt for the Court’ s instructions, if it is true, he makes clear that Joaquin did not get a fair trial,” Balarezo said in a statement. “We will all available options before deciding on a course of action.”

The U. S. Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn declined to comment.

The members of the non-sequestered jury, whose names were never released, were repeatedly warned not to watch the news of the case, including “something on TV, radio, newspapers, websites, blogs, or social media.”

Legal experts say that, while it is still too early to talk about possible throw out the verdict, this would at least cause the defense to ask for a chance to ask jurors about their exposure to news coverage and whether it affects their decisions. And it starts with the juror who spoke from the VICE.

“This person has to come in and to answer a few questions,” said former federal prosecutor David S. Weinstein.

University of Dayton professor Thaddeus Hoffmeister said Guzman’s lawyers will have to prove not only that there was juror misconduct, but that it has a detrimental effect. “The challenge now is for the court to determine whether this is in one way or another influenced their decision.”

VICE reported that the judge requested anonymity and would not give a name to the reporter. But the jury spoke to the reporter via video chat for two hours, and the reporter said he recognized the juror from the trial.

The judge told VICE at least five jurors involved in the deliberations and two alternates heard about allegations that Guzman was drugged and gang-raped underage girls, even if that evidence was kept out of the process because it was seen as detrimental.

The allegations, made public on the eve of the deliberations, appeared in the news and tweets about the case. The judge said the revelations do not seem to factor in Guzman guilty verdict, VICE reported.

“That hasn’t changed nobody’s mind for sure,” the juror said, according to VICE. “We were not really hung up on it. It was just a five-minute talk and that’s it, no more talk about it.”

The question of why the court was not told about the judges watching news reports, the judge told VICE: “I thought that we would be arrested. I thought that they would hold me in contempt… I didn’t want to say anything or rat out my co-judges. I didn’t want to be that person. I kept it for myself.

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