00:57 - Source: CNN
Who is 'El Chapo'?
New York CNN  — 

If the first week of testimony in Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera’s trial is any indication, jurors may be in for more grisly tales of bloodshed and deep-rooted corruption when court is back in session.

The jury, which given the defendant’s violent history is anonymous and partly sequestered, already has heard sworn statements befitting a made-for-TV narco drama. Jurors are due back Monday and Tuesday in federal court in Brooklyn, then in recess until after the Thanksgiving holiday.

Delivering the bulk of shocking details in the opening days of Guzmán’s trial on charges of drug trafficking, conspiring to murder rivals, gun crimes and money laundering was a key government witness: Jesus Zambada Garcia, also known as “El Rey,” or “The King.”

The imprisoned cartel chief on Wednesday described the inner-workings of the Sinaloa Cartel and its central figures, including his brother, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada.

Guzmán “was my brother’s partner,” Zambada Garcia told jurors. “My brother and ‘Chapo’ came to an agreement that they were going to establish a 50-50 partnership.”

Zambada Garcia recalled paying off countless Mexican officials during his stint, from 1987 to 2001, with the Sinaloa Cartel. Once, Guzmán asked him to deliver $100,000 to a Mexican military general to ensure a drug shipment was delivered without interruption, Zambada Garcia said.

Zambada Garcia also testified that he helped coordinate Guzmán’s escape in 2001 from a Mexican prison by helping to get a helicopter to Guzmán, he said, adding it was the first time he met Guzmán face to face.

Pleasure in a rival’s death alleged

Perhaps some of the most compelling testimony from Zambada Garcia touched on a violent narco war. He mentioned having knowledge that Guzmán planned to kill a rival cartel leader, Ramon Arellano Felix, who’d clashed with Guzmán over control of drug-smuggling routes.

Felix was killed in 2002, a decade after a failed attempt on his life during a shootout at a Mexican nightclub. Zambada Garcia learned from his brother that police in the Mexican state of Sinaloa had stopped Felix and shot him when he tried to flee, he testified.

“If anything had given him (Guzmán) pleasure, it was Ramon Arellano’s death,” Zambada Garcia said in court as Guzmán sat at the defense table.

Zambada Garcia, who’s due back on the stand Monday, awaits sentencing since he pleaded guilty to federal drug charges and agreed to cooperate with the government.

Prosecutors called up two other witnesses during Week 1 of Guzmán’s trial: a former US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent who discovered a smuggling tunnel from Mexico to Arizona in 1990 and a US Drug Enforcement Administration agent who tested nearly 1,000 pounds of cocaine discovered in connection with that tunnel.

Ruthless cartel kingpin or just the fall guy?

Contrasting pictures of Guzmán emerged during opening statements in the trial, which attorneys on both sides expect to last at least four months. Guzmán faces life in prison if convicted.

Assistant US Attorney Adam Fels on Tuesday pointed to Guzmán and described him as the hands-on boss of a criminal empire once capable of reaping $10 million in profits monthly from cocaine deals.

Guzmán commanded an army of gunmen with a diamond-encrusted pistol and a gold-plated rifle at his side, Fels said.

“Guzmán himself pulled the trigger and ordered the disposal of bodies,” he said.

Defense attorney Jeffrey Lichtman argued the case was a ploy to blame one man for drugs that infiltrated the United States, even after Guzmán’s capture.

“(Guzmán) was either in prison or hiding out from 1993 to 2017; the flow of drugs never slowed down,” Lichtman said. “Yet, he’s blamed for being the leader. The truth is, he was the leader of nothing.”

Fandom and fear in the jury pool

Even before opening statements, the high-stakes nature of the case was clear.

Among several potential jurors dismissed was a man who asked a court officer to help him get an autograph from Guzmán.

“I’m a bit of a fan,” the man told the judge.

A full-time Michael Jackson impersonator was dismissed over fears he could be identified. Another potential juror was excused after revealing he frequently ordered a sandwich named after “El Chapo.”

Two more dismissals were granted after the jury of seven women and five men, plus six alternates, was seated November 7. A woman who’d burst into tears out of concern for her personal safety was released after she said serving on the jury would exacerbate her medical conditions. Another juror was excused after claiming financial hardship, though he’d left that off his jury questionnaire.

Days before opening arguments, Guzmán’s legal team petitioned to allow their client to get a hug from his beauty queen wife. The court denied that request.