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Last-Minute Allegations Lodged Against 'El Chapo' As Case Goes To Jury

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going back now to the trial in New York of Joaquin El Chapo Guzman, who's accused of operating one of the world's most violent and far-reaching illegal drug trafficking operations. The jury begins deliberating tomorrow. There are 17 counts against Guzman, including money laundering, conspiracy to murder rivals and firearms violations. And on Friday night, days after the closing arguments, prosecutors unsealed secret documents, alleging even more shocking behavior by Guzman. I asked reporter Alan Feuer, who is covering El Chapo's trial for The New York Times, what was in them. And please be advised that it is disturbing.

ALAN FEUER: Well, to be blunt, the paper's quoting - a very close associate of Chapo said that Chapo drugged and raped a series of young girls. When he was living in the mountains, hiding from the authorities, there was some sort of madam, a procuress, who would send Chapo photographs of girls as young as 13. They would then, for the price of $5,000, be brought into the mountains so that Chapo and his associates could rape them.

MARTIN: What was the prosecutor's argument about how this evidence fits into the case?

FEUER: There's not a whole lot on why the jury never heard about this, but I think that one way we can conceive of it is that the charges that Chapo is facing in the indictment - they are mostly drug and murder charges. There are no sexual assault charges. And so, in the most clinical legal way, this evidence did not fit the four corners of the indictment.

MARTIN: So these documents with this very disturbing information was unsealed at the eleventh hour. OK. But are the jurors going to take that into consideration or are they instructed not to?

FEUER: They - I mean, listen. If they follow the judge's instructions not to read anything about the case and to pay attention only to what's introduced in court, they should never hear about this.

MARTIN: So, you know, throughout this trial, you've been reporting on just this just incredibly graphic testimony by these really kind of over-the-top, you know, larger-than-life figures. Prosecutors brought on something 50 witnesses. And then you said that Guzman's defense lasted only 30 minutes, and they called only one witness. So what is the defense's case?

FEUER: There is no defense, affirmatively speaking, in this trial. And, by that, I simply mean they're not alleging mistaken identity. They're not alleging actual innocence. The defense largely relied upon a very strong cross-examination of the cooperating witnesses, the Shakespearean cast of characters that you were mentioning because, by-and-large, these people were as violent and horrific as he, himself. In their closing arguments, they reprised a kind of conspiracy theory, you've got to call it, that Chapo was not actually the leader of the Sinaloa drug cartel but that the real mastermind behind the cartel was his close partner Mayo Zambada and that Mayo, working in league with a corrupt Mexican government, had essentially spent 45 to 50 years practicing his trade as a drug trafficker free and unmolested, while Chapo was, as they called him, the rabbit who was hunted down, thus letting Mayo run free.

MARTIN: So, finally, are any steps being taken to protect the jurors?

FEUER: So the jurors from the very beginning of this trial have been anonymous. Nobody, including the judge, knows their real names. They are picked up every morning by federal marshals and driven to the courthouse. They are then escorted home by federal marshals after the end of every trial day. Going forward, there's been no public discussion about whether they will continue to receive any kind of protection. But, you know, one assumes that their anonymity will shield them, ultimately, going forward.

MARTIN: That's Alan Feuer, court and criminal justice reporter for The New York Times. Alan, thanks so much for talking with us.

FEUER: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.