NEW YORK – A member of the federal jury that convicted Mexican drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán has reportedly accused at least five fellow jurors followed media coverage of the proceeding, violating the judge’s instructions.
The unidentified juror told Vice News on Wednesday that fellow jurors checked Twitter and other media outlets for reports on the trial.
The report could prompt defense motions for a new trial. The law office of Eduardo Balarezo, one member of Guzmán’s defense team, tweeted “Fair trial?” and “#freechapo.”
Balarezo later tweeted that the juror’s claim, “if true, make it clear that Joaquín did not get a fair trial.”
Another Guzmán lawyer said the defense team was “deeply concerned” that the jury might have ignored District Judge Brian Cogan’s warnings.
“More disturbing is the revelation that the jury may have lied to the court and had seen some deeply prejudicial, uncorroborated and inadmissible allegations against Mr. Guzmán on the eve of the beginning of jury deliberations,” Jeffrey Lichtman wrote in an email. “Above all, Joaquín Guzmán deserved a fair trial.”
He said the defense team is reviewing the matter and “will make any appropriate motions for relief.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York declined to comment.
The jurors served anonymously amid tight security during the nearly three-month-long proceeding at Brooklyn Federal Court. Cogan repeatedly cautioned them to avoid media reports and personal discussions about it.
One development that panel members allegedly read about was the allegation that Guzmán drugged and forced sex with girls as young as 13.
That evidence – including the claim that Guzmán referred to the girls as his “vitamins” –was not among the charges against him, and was not presented to jurors. It appeared in records unsealed by federal prosecutors days before the jury began deliberating.
After the media reported on the claims, Guzmán’s defense team asked Cogan to ask jurors whether they had seen them.
“So he did indeed come to our room and ask us if we knew, and we all denied it, obviously,” the juror told Vice.
The juror also said the panel took six days to deliberate because of one holdout, and added that jurors were concerned at the possibility that Guzmán could spend the rest of his life behind bars in solitary confinement, Vice reported.
The jury convicted Guzmán last week of all 10 criminal counts against him, including involvement in a continuing criminal enterprise, drug trafficking, money laundering and using a weapon in conjunction with drug dealing. Prosecutors said the Sinaloa cartel leader smuggled tons of cocaine and other drugs into the United States.
The criminal enterprise conviction means the defendant who gained international notoriety from two Mexico prison escapes faces life imprisonment in the United States.
Guzmán, 61, could be sent to the so-called Alcatraz of the Rockies, the Supermax federal prison in Florence, Colorado.
High-security inmates include Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Sept. 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui and Oklahoma City bombing accomplice Terry Nichols.
The new questions about jurors in the Guzmán trial aren’t unprecedented.
The broad rise of instant online access to social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, as well as email, texting, blogs, and other communication modes has raised the issue of juror misconduct and prompted questions about whether judges are able to prevent such legal problems.
A 2010 Reuters Legal report found that judges granted new trials or overturned verdicts in 28 criminal and civil cases dating back to 2009. Judges found some Internet-related problems involving jurors in roughly 75 percent of cases in which they did not take the drastic step of declaring mistrials, the report found.