US Seeks to Strike El Chapo Lawyer’s Opening Statement

November 14, 2018 Updated: November 14, 2018

NEW YORK—U.S. prosecutors on Nov. 13 asked a federal judge to strike the opening statement made a day earlier by the lawyer for accused Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman on the first day of his trial in Brooklyn for drug smuggling.

In a letter to U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan, prosecutors said the lawyer, Jeffrey Lichtman, tried improperly to sway the jury by arguing that Guzman had been selectively targeted for prosecution, an argument the court had barred him from making.

According to the letter, Lichtman also repeatedly referred to hearsay evidence that jurors will not be allowed to consider, and made arguments based on evidence that is not expected to be presented at trial.

Prosecutors said Lichtman’s opening argument was “rife with impropriety,” and challenged more than 20 statements from it.

“Mr. Lichtman’s opening statement was permeated with improper argument, unnoticed affirmative defenses and inadmissible hearsay,” the letter said. “The Court should strike it, and instruct the jury to disregard it.”

Guzman’s trial was expected to resume on Nov. 14, and Lichtman could not immediately be reached for comment.

The government said its request concerned only the part of Lichtman’s opening statement heard so far, and would not deprive him of the ability to make an “appropriate” opening statement.

Prosecutors hope to show at the trial how Guzman rose from a low-level marijuana trafficker in the 1970s to lead the powerful Sinaloa Cartel.

Among the statements by Lichtman that prosecutors challenged was what they called his insistence that the government contended that Guzman was the world’s “biggest” drug trafficker.

“This repeated assertion is false,” prosecutors said. “The government has not charged the defendant as ‘the biggest’ drug trafficker in the world, and it is required to prove no such thing.”

Guzman, 61, faces 17 criminal counts and a possible life sentence if convicted.


By Jonathan Stempel