November 5, 2018 / 3:42 PM / in 14 days

U.S. jury selection begins for 'El Chapo' trial; safety fears muted

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The trial of Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman on drug trafficking and conspiracy charges, which is expected to last four months, began on Monday with the selection of jurors in a federal court in Brooklyn.

U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan, prosecutors and defence lawyers on Monday questioned 45 potential jurors, rejecting 17. The jurors were called into the courtroom wearing stickers identifying them by number, their names withheld to protect their safety.

No jurors have yet been chosen, and the selection process is expected to continue on Tuesday. The 12 jurors and six alternate jurors chosen will be escorted to and from the courthouse by armed U.S. marshals.

Guzman, 61, sat in the courtroom wearing a navy blue suit and an open-collared white shirt, watching the proceedings.

Guzman formerly led the Sinaloa Cartel, which became one of the most powerful drug trafficking organizations in the world, named after its base in the Mexican state of Sinaloa.

His nickname, a reference to his five foot, six inch (1.67 meters) height, is often translated in English as “Shorty.”

Guzman was extradited to the United States from Mexico on Jan. 19, 2017, after escaping twice from Mexican prisons before being captured again.

U.S. prosecutors say that as the head of the Sinaloa Cartel, Guzman directed the international trafficking of multi-ton shipments of drugs, including heroin, cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine. If convicted, he faces life in prison.

JURY SELECTION

So far only two potential jurors have expressed fear about safety. Both were dismissed. One said she “read (Guzman’s) family will come after jurors and their families” and the other said she was concerned about safety “in general.”

Earlier in the day, a woman was dismissed after she expressed strong anti-drug views, and a man was let go after admitting that he had read about the case on Wikipedia.

Others were excused because of ties to law enforcement, scheduling conflicts and concerns about lost income.

Slideshow (6 Images)

Those still being considered include a self-described professional impersonator of the late pop star Michael Jackson. Prosecutors have asked that he be excused because his work could make him easy to identify.

Another remaining potential juror said he was born in Medellin, Colombia, where there was drug-related violence during his childhood.

On the recurring theme of legalization of marijuana, several jurors said they supported it. But when questioned, they said they could be impartial when weighing marijuana charges.

Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Susan Thomas, Alistair Bell and Dan Grebler

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