Judge questions jury about ‘El Chapo’ sex stories, before it begins deliberations

NEW YORK — The jury at the U.S. trial of the infamous Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera has ended its first day of deliberations without a verdict.

The start of the proceedings Monday was briefly delayed after two jurors indicated to U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan they were aware of news reports that emerged over the weekend about alleged sex crimes involving El Chapo and minors.

Government papers filed Friday contained allegations that El Chapo, 61, would regularly have sex with girls as young as 13, claiming they were his "vitamins" that would help him retain his youthful vigor.

The judge questioned both jurors behind closed doors before allowing them to remain on the jury.

Jurors are deciding the fate of El Chapo in his drug-trafficking case.

The jury has heard testimony lasting nearly three months about El Chapo's rise to power as the head of the Sinaloa cartel. Prosecutors say he is responsible for smuggling at least 200 tons of cocaine into the United States and using violence to protect his turf.

El Chapo, notorious for escaping from prison twice in Mexico, faces a life sentence if convicted.

In closing arguments, prosecutor Andrea Goldbarg said he was plotting yet another breakout when he was sent to New York in 2017, where he has been in solitary confinement ever since.

The defendant wanted to escape "because he is guilty and he never wanted to be in a position where he would have to answer for his crimes," Goldbarg said. "He wanted to avoid sitting right there. In front of you."

The defense claims El Chapo's role has been exaggerated by cooperating witnesses who are seeking leniency in their own cases. In his closing, defense attorney Jeffrey Lichtman assailed the case as a "fantasy" and urged the jury not to believe cooperators who "lie, steal, cheat, deal drugs and kill people" for a living.

The Mexican marines finally smoked El Chapo out of hiding in 2017, after a second prison escape, but the trial made clear he had friends in high places.

One of the 56 witnesses testified the drug billionaire paid $100 million to a former Mexican president in 2012, so he could come out of hiding. The witnesses made clear there was corruption on every level of the Mexican government that allowed El Chapo to pump $440,000 pounds of cocaine into the U.S. He flashed his power with his diamond encrusted gun, monogrammed with his initials.

El Chapo’s young wife, the mother of his 7-year-old twin daughters, appeared in court every day, listening to testimony that El Chapo had one rival buried alive and tortured many others. She stayed stoic when her husband’s alleged mistress testified he once escaped through a bathtub to elude Mexican police — and got away through a sewer system.

One Colombian cocaine supplier talked about the extreme plastic surgery he had done to his face to avoid capture. El Chapo’s longtime computer specialist turned over the “keys to the kingdom” — the way one government source described it. The DEA also worked with four wiretaps, where El Chapo buried himself with his own words. Before Guzman was even apprehended, he had talked about his career choice during an interview with actor Sean Penn and Rolling Stone magazine

Last week, newly unsealed court papers revealed disturbing allegations not heard by the jury — that El Chapo had sex with girls as young as 13. A Colombian drug trafficker told investigators that the kingpin paid $5,000 to have the girls brought to him, and that he sometimes drugged them, the papers say.

The unsealing of the documents about the sex claims involving minors came at the request of The New York Times and Vice News.

The judge had ordered prosecutors to review the material — originally sealed because it was deemed unrelated to the drug charges — and make portions of it public within four days of the government resting its case against El Chapo.

El Chapo's attorneys said their client denies the allegations.

Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, on a visit to New York City, stopped by the courtroom, with the jury not present, to thank the government's trial team.

The jury deliberations will resume Tuesday morning.

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