The trial of notorious Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman begins in a NY court on Monday with the selection of 12 anonymous jurors.
Guzman, sitting in the courtroom wearing a navy blue suit and an open-collared white shirt, could see them, though he seemed to pay them little attention. He faces life in prison if convicted.
"It's probably set up to be the most expensive trial in the history of the U.S.", he said. Guzman will join the ranks of mobsters John Gotti and Vincent Basciano, whose career-ending appearances in the Eastern District courthouse each brought in more than 1,000 potential jurors. Five were dismissed by lunchtime with no one yet impaneled.
The judge also agreed with prosecutors that the jury for the case should be kept anonymous, a measure typical in terrorism or mob cases where jury intimidation is a concern.
Guzman was seemingly attentive and followed via translation.
The potential jurors had previously filled out written questionnaires, and much of the questioning on Monday concerned their responses. He's accused of running a massive drug trafficking operation, along with money laundering, kidnapping and murder.
United States prosecutors contend from 1989 to 2014, the Sinaloa cartel smuggled at least 155 tonnes of cocaine into the U.S., as well as heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana, raking in US$14 billion (S$19 billion).
The mammoth trial in a Brooklyn federal court starts on Monday, will cost millions of dollars and is expected to last more than four months. But at what price?
The Sinaloa cartel Guzman founded in 1989 is still hugely powerful. His co-defendant Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada remains at large, and violent drug trafficking continues unabated in Mexico.
Prosecutors say Guzman was in the habit of ordering the killings of anyone who got in his way during his heyday in Mexico as boss of the Sinaloa cartel.
Guzman was extradited to the United States in January 2017 on an indictment that detailed his alleged reign over a merciless trafficking organization controlled through murder and torture. In 2016, an average of 174 Americans died every day from drug overdoses. Some have even been hiding in special jail units and others in witness protection programs, WNBC-TV reported.
The only visitors he is allowed are his lawyers and twin, seven-year-old daughters, from whom he is separated by thick glass. The judge has banned his 29-year-old beauty queen wife, Emma Coronel, from visiting. He was first apprehended by Mexican authorities in 2016.
Re-arrested in February 2014, he escaped again 14 months later.
He conducted a secret interview with Sean Penn, who, according to the actor, was unaware he was being surveilled by the Mexican government, and reportedly ended up being the beacon for authorities to ultimately catch up with Guzman.
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