For the first time since the trial of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán ended on Feb. 12, a member of the jury has described what it was like be part of the historic case.
In an exclusive interview with VICE News, the juror claimed that at least five fellow jurors violated the judge’s orders by following the case in the media during the trial. The juror also shared details of the deliberations, the extraordinary security precautions that were in place, and the jury’s views on Chapo, his lawyers, the prosecution, and several key witnesses.
The juror requested anonymity “for obvious reasons” and declined to provide a real name, noting that the jurors didn’t even share their identities with one another. They did form friendships, though, and referred to one another by their numbers or used nicknames based on tastes and personalities. The cast included Crash, Pookie, Doc, Mountain Dew, Hennessy, Starbucks, Aruba, TJ, 666, FeFe, and Loco.
“We were saying how we should have our own reality TV show, like ‘The Jurors on MTV’ or something like that,” the juror said.
The juror reached out to VICE News via email a day after the guilty verdict came down, and we spoke for nearly two hours on a video chat the following day. The 12 jurors and six alternates were anonymous under orders from the judge, and cameras were strictly forbidden inside the courtroom. But they sat in open court for all 44 days of the trial, their faces plainly visible to Chapo and anyone from the press or public who chose to attend.
I was a regular at the trial, and I recognized the juror from my time in the courtroom. The juror shared detailed notes taken during the trial, which were kept against the instructions of the court. Information from the jury selection process provided further corroboration about the juror’s role in the case.
Part of my coverage of the trial included sharing news, analysis, and observations from the courtroom on Twitter. The juror said they routinely checked my personal Twitter feed and tweets from other journalists. “We would constantly go to your media, your Twitter… I personally and some other jurors that I knew,” the juror said.
The juror reached out to another juror at the request of VICE News but said nobody else wanted to speak on the record. VICE News agreed to withhold personal details at the juror’s request. To further protect the juror’s identity, gender-neutral “they” pronouns are used throughout this story, and VICE News is not disclosing whether the juror was an alternate or one of the 12 people involved in deliberations.
Judge Cogan informed the jurors after the verdict was handed down that they are allowed to speak to the media, though he cautioned them against it. No other jurors have spoken out publicly, and because they are anonymous and not reachable for comment, parts of this juror’s account could not be independently verified.
If multiple jurors were indeed reading about the case in the media, Chapo’s defense team could seek a new trial.
“Obviously we're deeply concerned that the jury may have utterly ignored the judge's daily admonitions against reviewing the unprecedented press in the case,” said defense attorney Jeffrey Lichtman, who also noted concern that jurors may have seen “prejudicial, uncorroborated and inadmissible allegations” about Chapo during the trial. “Above all, Joaquin Guzman deserved a fair trial.”
Thursday, February 21, 2019
El Chapo may get a new trial
Vice News drops this bombshell of an interview with a juror who said that the jury followed the media even though they had instructions not to. This is big news: