January 30, 2019 / 8:11 PM / 7 months ago

'El Chapo' must not 'escape' again, U.S. prosecutor tells jury

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Accused Mexican drug boss Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman’s repeated escapes from the law prove that he “knows he’s guilty,” a U.S. prosecutor told jurors in closing arguments at his trial on Wednesday, urging them not to let him escape again.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrea Goldbarg shows a can of jalapenos to the jury during the trial of Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, in this courtroom sketch, in Brooklyn federal court in New York City, U.S., January 30, 2019. REUTERS/Jane Rosenberg

Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrea Goldbarg’s description of Guzman’s history of dramatic prison escapes capped off a day-long summation in federal court in Brooklyn in which she also attacked the defense argument that Guzman was a scapegoat.

Standing in front of a table piled with trial evidence including AK-47 rifles and bricks of cocaine, Goldbarg said Guzman ran from the law because he wanted to avoid sitting before a jury.

“Do not let him escape responsibility,” she urged the jurors.

Guzman, 61, has twice escaped from high-security Mexican prisons, once hidden in a laundry cart and once through a nearly mile-long tunnel dug into his cell. While on the run, he evaded repeated capture attempts, once through a tunnel hidden under a bathtub in one of his safe houses.

He was captured for the last time in January 2016 and extradited to the United States a year later. He could face life in prison if convicted of the 10 criminal counts he faces.

One of Guzman’s lawyers, Jeffrey Lichtman, claimed in his opening statement that the cartel’s real leader is Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, who remains at large.

Goldbarg dismissed that argument on Wednesday, telling the jury that the prosecution had to prove only that Guzman was a leader, not the most important or only one.

The trial spanned 10 weeks of testimony from more than 50 witnesses, including former Guzman associates who are cooperating with the U.S. government after striking plea deals.

Guzman’s lawyers have sought to undermine the cooperators’ credibility in cross-examinations, which Goldbarg addressed head on.

“These witnesses were criminals,” she said. “The government is not asking you to like them.”

However, she said, their testimony matched intercepted phone calls, text messages and letters from Guzman.

“You know these cooperating witnesses are telling the truth because you heard the same thing from the defendant’s own mouth,” she said.

Goldbarg spent much her closing argument reviewing evidence linking Guzman to individual drug shipments. She also summed up testimony that Guzman plotted to kill his enemies.

Guzman called only one witness in his defense on Tuesday. Lichtman is expected to deliver his closing argument on Thursday.

Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Anthony Lin and Grant McCool

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