Feds rest case against Joaquín 'El Chapo' Guzmán; accused drug lord won't testify in his own defense

Kevin McCoy

NEW YORK – Accused Mexican drug lord Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, facing federal charges that could put him in prison for life, has opted not to testify in his own defense.

He announced his decision in court Monday after federal prosecutors rested their case against him.

"Your honor, me and my attorneys talked about this ... I will not testify," the outwardly calm Guzmán told U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan in the first words the defendant had spoken in court during the trial.

"They counseled me, and I agreed with them," said Guzmán.

His wife, Emma Coronel Aispuro, sitting in the second row, similarly showed no apparent emotion.

Defense lawyer William Purpura said Guzmán's legal team had explained to him that if he took the witness stand to tell his side, he would also be required to respond to cross-examination by prosecutors.

Prosecutors rested their case Monday more than two months into the trial. Their final witnesses included James Bradley, a Department of Defense analyst who studied Guzmán's escape from a Mexican prison via a nearly mile-long tunnel — a breakout that brought him worldwide notoriety. 

The final government witness, a Brendan Hanratty, a Drug Enforcement Administration special agent, described Guzmán's January 2017 extradition from Mexico to the U.S. to stand trial.

Afterward, defense lawyers asked Cogan to direct an acquittal of Guzmán.

The judge denied the motion, ruling that the prosecutors had presented more than ample evidence to show Guzmán ran a continuing criminal enterprise that smuggled tons of cocaine, heroin, and other drugs into the United States.

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Defense team members said they have tentative plans to call just two witnesses. They are federal investigators who debriefed Jorge Cifuentes and Alex Cifuentes, Colombian brothers and former Guzmán associates who testified against the alleged drug lord.

Defense lawyers plan to highlight discrepancies in what the debriefing agents wrote in memos and what the brothers testified to at trial. However, Cogan issued a ruling Monday that will limit the effort.

Both sides in the case are expected to present closing arguments as soon as Wednesday. The tentative schedule calls for the judge to present the jury with legal requirements for conviction on the charges against Guzmán later Thursday or on Friday.

After that, the panel of seven women and four men is expected to begin deliberating over Guzmán's fate.

In all, prosecutors presented evidence from 56 witnesses. They included 13 former Guzmán associates who became cooperating witnesses after being arrested and charged with drug trafficking and other crimes.

The group provided an inside glimpse of Mexico's Sinaloa drug cartel under the leadership of Guzmán and others. They told jurors that Guzmán used cars, trucks, planes, trains, shipping boats and even submarines to smuggle narcotics under, over, around and through the southern U.S. border.

A former Guzmán security guard, secretary and pilot named Isaias Váldez Ríos, was the final cooperating witness. In some of the trial's most dramatic testimony, he told jurors that Guzmán cursed, beat, and shot some of his enemies — and once ordered a badly wounded member of another drug cartel buried alive.

Instead of planning an extensive roster of defense witnesses, Guzmán's defense team strategically focused on discrediting the government's cooperating witnesses as criminal liars who agreed to testify in hope of gaining leniency for their self-confessed crimes.

On Monday, defense lawyer Eduardo Balarezo highlighted inconsistencies in Váldez's testimony. The questioning showed that Váldez wasn't necessarily close at hand to witness some of the violence he described.

Guzmán's trial has featured some lighter moments, as well.

Actor Alejandro Edda talks to reporters outside federal court in the Brooklyn borough of New York, Monday, Jan. 28, 2019. The actor, who portrayed the notorious drug lord El Chapo on a Netflix series, appeared at the kingpin's trial. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig) ORG XMIT: NYSW112

On Monday, art imitated life as actor Alejandro Edda, who portrays Guzmán in Netflix's Narcos: Mexico, came to the courtroom to observe the man himself sitting at the defense table.

A court security officer warned all spectators in Edda's seating area not to gesture, wave or give a thumb's up in Guzmán's direction. Violators would be removed from the courtroom, the officer said.

Defense lawyers had alerted their client that a special visitor would be in the courtroom. Purpura said Guzmán, who once discussed making a biopic of his life,  seemed happy to see Edda.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Feds rest case against Joaquín 'El Chapo' Guzmán; accused drug lord won't testify in his own defense