Mexico’s ‘El Chapo’ found guilty in U.S. drug trial

FILE PHOTO: Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is escorted by soldiers during a presentation at the hangar belonging to the office of the Attorney General in Mexico City, Mexico January 8, 2016. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido/File Photo

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The world’s most infamous cartel boss Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, who rose from poverty in rural Mexico to run a global drug empire and amass billions of dollars, was found guilty in a U.S. court on Tuesday of drug trafficking.

Jurors in federal court in Brooklyn found Guzman, 61, guilty on all 10 counts. He faces a possible sentence of life in prison.

One of the major figures in Mexican drug wars that have roiled the country since 2006, Guzman was extradited to the United States for trial in 2017 after he was arrested in Mexico the year before.

Guzman sat and showed no emotion while the verdict was read. Once the jury left the room, he and his wife put their hands to their hearts and gave each other the thumbs up sign.

Though other high-ranking cartel figures had been extradited previously, Guzman was the first to go to trial instead of pleading guilty.

The trial, which featured testimony from more than 50 witnesses, offered the public an unprecedented look at the inner workings of the Sinaloa Cartel, named for the state in northwestern Mexico where Guzman was born in a poor mountain village.

The legend of Guzman was burnished by two dramatic escapes he made from Mexican prisons and by a “Robin Hood” image he cultivated among Sinaloa’s poor.

U.S. prosecutors said he trafficked tons of cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine into the United States over more than two decades, consolidating his power in Mexico through murders and wars with rival cartels.

Small in stature, Guzman’s nickname means “Shorty.” His smuggling exploits, the violence he used and the sheer size of his illicit business made Guzman the world’s most notorious drug baron since Colombia’s Pablo Escobar, who was shot dead by police in 1993.

Guzman’s lawyers say he was set up as a “fall guy” by Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, a powerful drug lord from Sinaloa who remains at large.

In a statement after the verdict, lawyers for El Chapo said they were “obviously disappointed” but respectful of the jury’s decision. “We were faced with extraordinary and unprecedented obstacles in defending Joaquin, including his detention in solitary confinement,” the statement said.

DRUG WARS

Mexico has been mired for 12 years in a deadly military-led war against drug gangs. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador was elected last year after promising a change, suggesting a negotiated peace and amnesty for non-violent drug dealers, traffickers and farmers.

The most detailed evidence against Guzman came from more than a dozen former associates who struck deals to cooperate with U.S. prosecutors.

Through them, jurors heard how the Sinaloa Cartel gained power amid the shifting allegiances of the Mexican drug trade in the 1990s, eventually coming to control almost the entire Pacific coast of Mexico.

They heard how Guzman made a name for himself in the 1980s as “El Rapido,” the speedy one, by building cross-border tunnels that allowed him to move cocaine from Mexico into the United States faster than anyone else.

The witnesses, who included some of Guzman’s top lieutenants, a communications engineer and a onetime mistress, described how he built a sophisticated organization reminiscent of a multinational corporation, with fleets of planes and boats, detailed accounting ledgers and an encrypted electronic communication system run through secret computer servers in Canada.

A former bodyguard testified that he watched Guzman kill three rival drug cartel members, including one victim who he shot and then ordered to be buried even as he was still gasping for air.

Estimates of how much money Guzman made from drugs vary. In 2009, Forbes Magazine put him on its list of the world’s richest people, with an estimated $1 billion. It later dropped him from the list, saying it was too difficult to quantify his assets.

The U.S. Justice Department said in 2017 it sought forfeiture of more than $14 billion in drug proceeds and illicit profits from Guzman.

The trial also featured extensive testimony about corruption in Mexico, most of it involving bribes to law enforcement, military and local government officials so the cartel could carry out its day-to-day drug shipping operations undisturbed.

The most shocking allegation came from Guzman’s former top aide Alex Cifuentes, who accused former Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto of taking a $100 million bribe from Guzman. A spokesman for the ex-president has denied the claim.

In one of the trial’s final days, Guzman told the judge he would not testify in his own defense. The same day, he grinned broadly at audience member Alejandro Edda, the Mexican actor who plays Guzman in the Netflix drama “Narcos.”

Despite his ties to government officials, Guzman often lived on the run. Imprisoned in Mexico in 1993, he escaped in 2001 hidden in a laundry cart and spent the following years moving from one hideout to another in the mountains of Sinaloa, guarded by a private army.

He was seized and imprisoned again in 2014, but pulled off his best known escape the following year when he disappeared into a tunnel dug into his cell in a maximum security prison.

But the Mexican government says he blew his cover through a series of slip ups, including an attempt to make a movie about his life. He was finally recaptured in January 2016 following a shootout in Sinaloa.

(Reporting by Brendan Pierson, Tina Bellon and Jonathan Stempel; Editing by Alistair Bell and Grant McCool)

U.S. jurors’ identities in ‘El Chapo’ drug trial to remain secret

Recaptured drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is escorted by soldiers at the hangar belonging to the office of the Attorney General in Mexico City, Mexico January 8, 2016

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A U.S. judge in Brooklyn has ruled that the identities of jurors expected to decide the fate of accused Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman at a trial this year will be kept secret.

In a decision on Monday, U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan said jurors’ names, addresses and places of employment will be shielded from Guzman, his lawyers, prosecutors and the press.

He also ordered that jurors be transported to and from the courthouse by federal marshals, and sequestered from the public while there.

Guzman’s lawyer had argued that an anonymous jury would undermine the presumption that his client was innocent, create an “extremely unfair” impression that he was dangerous, and impair his ability to question prospective jurors.

“Mr. Guzman is obviously disappointed by the decision,” the lawyer, Eduardo Balarezo, said in an email on Tuesday. “All he is asking for is a fair trial in front of an impartial jury.”

U.S. prosecutors have accused Guzman, 60, of running a global cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine smuggling operation as the leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, and playing a central role in a decade-long Mexican drug war where more than 100,000 people have died.

Cogan said the U.S. government “presented strong and credible reasons to believe that the jury needs protection,” and the evidence might depict a “pattern of violence” by Guzman and his associates that might cause jurors to fear for their safety.

“That many of the allegations involve murder, assault, kidnapping, or torture of potential witnesses or those suspected of assisting law enforcement makes the government’s concerns particularly salient,” Cogan wrote.

The judge also said the significant media attention to the case could raise the potential for juror names to become public, exposing jurors to the risk of intimidation or harassment.

Balarezo had in court papers said keeping juror identities from the public and news media would be a “fair compromise.”

Guzman’s trial is scheduled to begin in September, according to court records, and could last a few months.

Mexican authorities captured Guzman and an associate in January 2016 by pulling over a Ford Focus they had stolen, after Guzman had fled through tunnels and drains from a raid on a safe house in northwest Mexico.

The arrest came six months after Guzman had escaped through a tunnel from a high-security Mexican prison. Guzman was extradited to the United States in January 2017.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Tom Brown)

‘I had to do it,’ accused gunman Dylann Roof says of SC church attack

Emanuel African Methodist Church

By Harriet McLeod

CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) – Jurors in the federal hate crimes trial of Dylann Roof watched a video on Friday of the avowed white supremacist confessing to killing nine parishioners at a historic black church in South Carolina and saying he felt he “had to do it.”

Roof told investigators after his arrest for the June 17, 2015, massacre at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston that he estimated he had killed five people as retribution for perceived racial grievances. He sounded surprised to learn nine parishioners died.

“I had to do it because somebody had to do it,” Roof said in the taped confession.

Asked if he had regrets, Roof said, “I’d say so, yes … I regret that I did it, a little bit.”
Roof’s lawyers have not disputed his guilt but hope to spare him from being executed on charges of hate crimes resulting in death, obstruction of religion and firearms violations.

Roof, 22, also faces a death sentence if found guilty of murder charges in state court.

Police lead suspected shooter Dylann Roof into the courthouse in Shelby, North Carolina,

Police lead suspected shooter Dylann Roof into the courthouse in Shelby, North Carolina, U.S., June 18, 2015. REUTERS/Jason Miczek/File Photo

The videotaped confession, presented on the third day of his federal trial in Charleston, gave jurors a chance to hear the defendant explain why he carried out the attack on a Bible study meeting.

He appeared both animated and at ease as he spoke to investigators, laughing at times as he answered their questions.

Roof spoke with investigators in Shelby, North Carolina, where he was arrested about 13 hours after security video showed him leaving the church.

Inside his car, police said they found a journal where Roof wrote of his dreams for a race war and notes he wrote to his parents.

“Dear Mom, I love you,” read one note presented to jurors. “I’m sorry for what I did. I know this will have repercussions.”

In the video, Roof said white people needed to take a stand against crimes by African Americans.

“I don’t like what black people do,” Roof said, adding he was in favor of reinstating segregation.

He chose the Charleston church for the shooting because he knew “at least a small amount of black people” would be gathered there. Two adults and a child at the Bible study survived.

“It’s like this,” Roof said. “I’m not in a position, by myself, to go into a black neighborhood and shoot drug dealers.”

Nobody ran when he opened fire, he said, and he recalled pausing between shots.

“I was thinking about what I should do,” he said.

(Reporting by Harriet McLeod; Writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Bill Trott and Andrew Hay)

U.S. seeking death penalty as trial begins in South Carolina church shooting

Dylann Roof is seen in this June 18, 2015 handout booking photo provided by Charleston County Sheriff's Office. REUTERS/Charleston County Sheriff's Office

By Harriet McLeod

CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) – The final phase of jury selection begins on Monday in the U.S. death penalty trial for a white man charged with federal hate crimes after the shooting deaths of nine black parishioners at a historic South Carolina church last year.

Dylann Roof, who is accused of holding white supremacist views, was indicted on 33 federal counts of hate crimes, obstruction of religion and using a firearm in a violent crime after he opened fire during a Bible study session at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston in June 2015.

The proceedings getting underway at the U.S. courthouse in Charleston will unfold as another racially-charged trial progresses across the street. Michael Slager, a white former police officer in North Charleston, is being tried for murder in state court in the shooting of black motorist Walter Scott in April 2015.

The two incidents, which occurred just two months apart, shook the country and further intensified the debate over U.S. race relations.

In Roof’s case, lawyers could take about two weeks to cull the remaining potential jurors. More than 700 people filled out questionnaires about the case when jury selection began in September, out of 3,000 summoned for the trial. Twelve jurors and 6 alternates will hear the testimony.

If Roof is convicted, the penalty phase of the trial could extend into January. Roof, 22, has offered to plead guilty if the death penalty was dropped, court filings show.

He also faces a death sentence if found guilty of murder in state court in a trial scheduled for next year.

Prosecutors say Roof planned the church attack for months, singling out victims who were black and elderly, and showing no remorse. At the federal trial, they plan to present racist manifestos that he purportedly wrote in an effort to incite a race war.

Roof’s attorneys declined to comment ahead of the trial, and his family has asked for privacy.

“We are still struggling to understand why Dylann caused so much grief and pain to so many good people,” the family said in a statement last week.

Relatives of the victims have been divided on the decision to seek capital punishment, after some tearfully offered words of forgiveness during Roof’s first court appearance.

The city plans an outpouring of support during the trial, with restaurants donating daily lunches to family members attending court.

“How they chose to respond to the tragedy made the difference,” said Helen Hill, executive director of the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau. “They are a model of how you can truly bring about long-lasting change.”

(Additional reporting and writing by Letitia Stein; Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Bernard Orr)

Anti-Terror Court Indicts 106 For Burning of Christian Couple in Pakistan

A Pakistani anti-terrorism court has indicted 106 people in connection with the brutal murder of a Christian couple in November 2014.

The mob had falsely accused the couple of burning a Quran.

“The challan (charge-sheet) states that Maulvi Muhammad Hussain, Maulvi Arshad Baloch and Maulvi Noorul Hassan were involved in persistent provocative speeches against the couple which led to the assembly of 400 people as a mob who then burned Shama and Shahzad alive,” the Pakistan Daily Times reported .

“After the challan was presented at the hearing, the court also held Yousaf Gujjar, the owner of the brick kiln where the couple was beaten to death, responsible.”

Guijar had been angry that the couple had not repaid him money that he claimed the couple owned and set them up for blasphemy charges.  He placed a few pages of a Quran in their trash singed as if the book had been burned.

An official with the International Christian Concern said that the incident shows the danger Christians in Pakistan face every day.

“The brutal killing of Shahzad and Shama once again highlights the extreme danger of religious fanaticism that Christians in Pakistan face on a regular basis. The accusation of blasphemy can be used for any dispute and can often prove deadly as it did today, inciting a mob to brutally murder this young couple.”