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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 14 November 2018

Jury selection begins for El Chapo trial

Twelve jurors and six alternate jurors chosen will be escorted to and from the courthouse by armed US marshals

Members of Joaquin Guzman's defence team arrive for the start of jury selection. Reuters
Members of Joaquin Guzman's defence team arrive for the start of jury selection. 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.

US District Judge Brian Cogan, prosecutors and defence lawyers have so far questioned 40 potential jurors, ruling out 13. The jurors were called into the courtroom wearing stickers identifying them by number, their names withheld to protect their safety.

The 12 jurors and six alternate jurors chosen will be escorted to and from the courthouse by armed US marshals.

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

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

His nickname, a reference to his diminutive 1.67 metres height, is often translated in English as "Shorty".

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

US prosecutors said 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.

So far only one potential juror has expressed fear about safety. She was dismissed on Monday afternoon after saying she “read [Guzman’s] family will come after jurors and their families".

Another woman was dismissed after saying the trial might make her think of images from the Netflix drama Narcos, about Colombian drug cartels.

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.

Those still in the running include a self-described professional impersonator of the late pop star Michael Jackson. Prosecutors have asked that he be excused because his job 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.

One recurring theme legalisation of marijuana: several jurors said they supported it, but when questioned said they could be impartial when weighing marijuana charges.