Convicted drug lord Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman seeks new trial

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Lawyers for Joaquin Guzman, the Mexican crime lord known as El Chapo, on Tuesday said his drug smuggling conviction should be set aside and a new trial ordered, because juror misconduct deprived him of his constitutional right to a fair trial.

FILE PHOTO: 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. REUTERS/Henry Romero/File Photo

In a filing with the federal court in Brooklyn, New York, the lawyers said a new trial was needed after an article in Vice News said several jurors ignored the trial judge’s ban against following media coverage of the case during the 11-week trial.

“We look forward to vindicating his rights in a new trial,” Eduardo Balarezo, a lawyer for Guzman, said in a statement.

Guzman, 61, was convicted on Feb. 12 on all 10 counts he faced, after jurors heard evidence from more than 50 prosecution witnesses, offering an unprecedented look at the inner workings of the Sinaloa Cartel.

Prosecutors said Guzman trafficked tons of cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine into the United States over two decades, amassing power in Mexico through murders and wars with rival cartels. He faces life in prison at a scheduled June 25 sentencing.

John Marzulli, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue, whose office prosecuted Guzman, declined to comment.

The Feb. 20 Vice News article was based on an interview with an unnamed juror, and said at least five fellow jurors violated Judge Brian Cogan’s orders not to follow Guzman’s case in the media or on Twitter.

Guzman’s lawyers said this exposed jurors to a “flood” of prejudicial information not admitted at trial.

They said this included a New York Times article based on public court filings that said Guzman drugged and raped girls as young as 13 years old, and published just two days before deliberations began. Guzman previously denied those accusations.

The Vice article also said jurors knew from Twitter that Cogan would ask if they had seen the Times article, and several lied when he asked. “We all denied it, obviously,” the unnamed juror said, according to Vice.

“If a justice system’s measure is how it treats the most reviled and unpopular, then ours may have failed Joaquin Guzman by denying him the fair trial before an untainted jury to which he’s constitutionally entitled,” Guzman’s lawyers said.

The lawyers want a hearing to examine whether there was juror misconduct. This could require that jurors, who had been transported to and from court during the trial under tight security, be questioned themselves.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Howard Goller