NEW YORK (AP) — Mexico’s most notorious drug lord, Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán Loera, better known as “El Chapo,” was convicted Tuesday of running an industrial-scale smuggling operation after a three-month trial packed with Hollywood-style tales of grisly killings, political payoffs, cocaine hidden in jalapeno cans, jewel-encrusted guns and a naked escape with his mistress through a tunnel.
Guzman listened to a drumbeat of guilty verdicts on drug and conspiracy charges that could put the 61-year-old escape artist behind bars for decades in a maximum-security U.S. prison selected to thwart another one of the breakouts that made him a folk hero in his native country.
A jury whose members’ identities were kept secret reached a verdict after deliberating six days in the expansive case, sorting through what authorities called an “avalanche” of evidence gathered since the late 1980s that Guzman and his murderous Sinaloa drug cartel made billions in profits by smuggling tons of cocaine, heroin, meth and marijuana into the U.S.
As the judge read the verdict, Guzman stared at the jury without expression. When the jurors were discharged, he leaned back in his chair to catch the eye of his wife, who gave him a subtle thumbs-up.
U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan lauded the jury’s meticulous attention to detail and the “remarkable” approach it took toward deliberations. Cogan said it made him “very proud to be an American.”
Evidence showed drugs poured into the U.S. through secret tunnels or hidden in tanker trucks, concealed in the undercarriage of passenger cars and packed in rail cars passing through legitimate points of entry — suggesting that a border wall wouldn’t be much of a worry.
The prosecution’s case against Guzman, a roughly 5½-foot figure whose nickname translates to “Shorty,” included the testimony of several turncoats and other witnesses. Among them were Guzman’s former Sinaloa lieutenants, a computer encryption expert and a Colombian cocaine supplier who underwent extreme plastic surgery to disguise his appearance.
One Sinaloa insider described Mexican workers getting contact highs while packing cocaine into thousands of jalapeno cans — shipments that totaled 25 to 30 tons of cocaine worth $500 million each year. Another testified how Guzman sometimes acted as his own sicario, or hitman, punishing a Sinaloan who dared to work for another cartel by kidnapping him, beating and shooting him and having his men bury the victim while he was still alive, gasping for air.
The defense case lasted just half an hour. Guzman’s lawyers did not deny his crimes as much as argue he was a fall guy for government witnesses who were more evil than he was.
In closing arguments, defense attorney Jeffrey Lichtman urged the jury not to believe government witnesses who “lie, steal, cheat, deal drugs and kill people.”
U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue called the conviction “a victory for the American people who suffered so much” while the defendant poured poison over the borders. He expected Guzman to get life without parole.
“It is a sentence from which there is no escape and no return,” Donoghue told a news conference outside the courthouse, through snow and sleet.
Lichtman said the defense “fought like complete savages” and will appeal the case. “No matter who the defendant is, you still have to fight to the death.”
He said his client was a positive thinker who “doesn’t give up.”
Upon hearing the verdict, Guzman was “as cool as a cucumber,” Lichtman added. “Honest to god, we were more upset than he was.”
Deliberations were complicated by the trial’s vast scope. Jurors were tasked with making 53 decisions about whether prosecutors have proven different elements of the case.
The trial cast a harsh glare on the corruption that allowed the cartel to flourish. Colombian trafficker Alex Cifuentes caused a stir by testifying that former Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto took a $100 million bribe from Guzman. Peña Nieto denied it, but the allegation fit a theme: politicians, army commanders, police and prosecutors, all on the take.
The tension at times was cut by some of the trial’s sideshows, such as the sight of Guzman and his wife, Emma Coronel Aispuro, showing up in matching burgundy velvet blazers in a gesture of solidarity. Another day, a Chapo-size actor who played the kingpin in the TV series “Narcos: Mexico” came to watch, telling reporters that seeing the defendant flash him a smile was “surreal.”
While the trial was dominated by Guzman’s persona as a near-mythical outlaw who carried a diamond-encrusted handgun and stayed one step ahead of the law, the jury never heard from Guzman himself, except when he told the judge he wouldn’t testify.
But his sing-songy voice filled the courtroom, thanks to recordings of intercepted phone calls. “Amigo!” he said to a cartel distributor in Chicago. “Here at your service.”
One of the trial’s most memorable tales came from girlfriend Lucero Guadalupe Sanchez Lopez, who testified she was in bed in a safe house with an on-the-run Guzman in 2014 when Mexican marines started breaking down his door. She said Guzman led her to a trap door beneath a bathtub that opened up to a tunnel that allowed them to escape.
Asked what he was wearing, she replied: “He was naked. He took off running. He left us behind.”
The defendant had previously escaped from jail by hiding in a laundry bin in 2001. He then got an escort from crooked police officers into Mexico City before retreating to one of his many mountainside hideaways. In 2014, he pulled off another jail break, escaping through a mile-long lighted tunnel on a motorcycle on rails.
Even when Guzman was recaptured in 2016 before his extradition to the United States, he was plotting another escape, prosecutor Andrea Goldbarg said in closing arguments.
“Why? Because he is guilty and he never wanted to be in a position where he would have to answer for his crimes,” she told the jury. “He wanted to avoid sitting right there. In front of you.”
Nashville Christmas Morning Bomber Identified As Human Remains Found At Crime Scene, Motive Unknown
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The man believed to be responsible for the Christmas Day bombing that tore through downtown Nashville blew himself up in the explosion, and appears to have acted alone, federal officials said Sunday.
Investigators used DNA and other evidence to link the man, identified as Anthony Quinn Warner, to the mysterious explosion but said they have not determined a motive. Officials have received hundreds of tips and leads, but have concluded that no one other than Warner is believed to have been involved in the early morning explosion that damaged dozens of buildings.
“We’re still following leads, but right now there is no indication that any other persons were involved,” said Douglas Korneski, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Memphis field office. “We’ve reviewed hours of security video surrounding the recreation vehicle. We saw no other people involved.”
In publicly identifying the suspect and his fate, officials disclosed a major breakthrough in their investigation even as they acknowledged the lingering mystery behind the explosion, which took place on a holiday morning well before downtown streets were bustling with activity and was accompanied by a recorded announcement warning anyone nearby that a bomb would soon detonate.
No motive was disclosed by investigators nor was it revealed why Warner had selected the particular location for the bombing, which damaged an AT&T building and has continued to wreak havoc on cellphone service and police and hospital communications in several Southern states as the company worked to restore service.
Warner, who public records show had experience with electronics and alarms and who had also worked as a computer consultant for a Nashville realtor, had been linked to the bombing since at least Saturday when federal and local investigators converged on a home in suburban Nashville linked to him.
Federal agents could be seen looking around the property, searching the home and the backyard. A Google Maps image captured in May 2019 had shown an RV similar to the one that exploded parked in the backyard, but it was not at the property on Saturday, according to an Associated Press reporter at the scene.
On Sunday morning, police formally named Warner as being under investigation.
Officials said their identification of Warner involved several key pieces of evidence, including DNA found at the explosion site. Investigators from the Tennessee Highway Patrol also recovered parts from the recreational vehicle where the bomb was detonated among the wreckage from the blast, and were able to link the vehicle identification number to an RV that was registered to Warner, officials said.
Whitmer says Trump ‘inciting’ domestic terrorism
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called out President Donald Trump on Sunday for incendiary comments he made about her during a weekend campaign rally, saying the President’s heightened rhetoric just days after authorities foiled a plot by extremists to kidnap her is “inciting this kind of domestic terrorism.”
But as Whitmer, a Democrat, pleaded with Trump to “bring down the heat,” the President’s daughter-in-law Lara Trump described the President’s calls to jail the governor as him “having fun,” during an interview with CNN on Sunday.
“You know, it’s incredibly disturbing that the President of the United States, 10 days after a plot to kidnap, put me on trial and execute me, 10 days after that was uncovered, the President is at it again and inspiring and incentivizing and inciting this kind of domestic terrorism,” Whitmer said in an interview on NBC.
“It is wrong. It’s got to end. It is dangerous, not just for me and my family, but for public servants everywhere who are doing their jobs and trying to protect their fellow Americans. People of goodwill on both sides of the aisle need to step up and call this out and bring the heat down,” she added.
During a rally Saturday in Michigan, Trump accused Whitmer, whom he has previously called “a dictator,” of unnecessarily locking down her state as she fought the coronavirus pandemic. That led his crowd to break into a chant of “Lock her up!” a little more than a week after federal authorities revealed a plot by extremists to kidnap Whitmer and overthrow the government.
Rather than condemning the derailed plot — which led to terrorism, conspiracy and weapons charges against more than a dozen men — or discouraging that kind of divisive language, Trump responded to the cheer by saying, “Lock them all up” — drawing on his authoritarian rhetoric about jailing his political opponents by adding Hillary Clinton and the Biden family into the mix.
Asked about the chants by CNN’s Jake Tapper on State of the Union, Lara Trump, who serves as a senior adviser for the Trump campaign, downplayed the comments and dismissed concerns about their potential impact.
“Well, look, he wasn’t doing anything, I don’t think, to provoke people to threaten this woman at all,” she said, referring to Whitmer. “He was having fun at a Trump rally.”
During his rally Saturday, Trump also complained that Whitmer said publicly that his refusal to denounce White supremacists, extremists and hate groups has emboldened activists like those who allegedly planned the foiled attack against her.
“I guess they said she was threatened, right?” Trump said, seeming to doubt the specifics of the case and underplaying the violence it could have entailed. “She was threatened, and she blamed me — she blamed me, and our people were the ones that worked with her people, so let’s see what happens.”
Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware called Lara Trump’s comments “troubling” during an appearance on “State of the Union” later Sunday, telling Tapper that the President’s language creates a clear contrast between him and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.
“If that means that for our President ‘fun’ is fueling division and encouraging folks to say and do things that are threatening and completely inappropriate, well that’s a reminder of what kind of president we currently have, in sharp contrast to Joe Biden, someone who can and will bring our country together,” Coons said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also criticized Trump for his rally comments, saying in an interview with ABC on Sunday that he was being “irresponsible” with his rhetoric.
“The President has to realize the words of the president of the United States weigh a ton. And in that political dialogue, to inject fear tactics into it, especially (about) a woman governor and her family, is so irresponsible,” said Pelosi, a California Democrat.
London police shocked by rare fatal shooting of officer
A police officer in London died after being shot in the early hours of Friday by a man who was being detained in a rare fatal shooting of a UK police officer.
The incident occurred in the early hours of Friday at Croydon Custody Centre in south London, the city’s Metropolitan Police Service said.
Fellow officers and paramedics treated the officer at the scene, according to a police statement. However, he later died of his injuries at the hospital.
Later on Friday, the police service identified the slain officer as 54-year-old Sgt. Matt Ratana.
“This is a truly shocking incident in which one of our colleagues has lost his life in the most tragic circumstances. My heart goes out to his family, direct colleagues and friends,” said Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick.
A 23-year-old man was detained at the scene, police said. He is in hospital in a critical condition from a gunshot wound. The Metropolitan Police Service has launched a homicide investigation.
The fatal shooting of a police officer is an unusual event in the United Kingdom, where police do not routinely carry guns.
No police firearms were discharged during the incident, the police statement said.
Dick said Ratana was originally from Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand, and moved to London in 1989. He joined the Metropolitan Police in 1991 and was captain of his recruit training class.
According to the UK Police Roll of Honour Trust website, no officer lost his or her life in a shooting incident last year. The last Metropolitan Police officer to lose his life in a violent attack was Keith Palmer, who was fatally stabbed in a terror attack in the British capital in 2017.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the country owed a “huge debt” to police officers who risk their lives to keep the community safe.
“My deepest condolences go to the family, friends and colleagues of the police officer who was killed in Croydon last night,” he said on Twitter. “We owe a huge debt to those who risk their own lives to keep us safe.”
UK Home Secretary Priti Patel said she was “shocked and saddened” by the news. “My thoughts today are with his family, friends, and policing colleagues in London and across the country,” she said in a statement.
Patel said she had offered her condolences to Dick and offered whatever support was needed as the shooting was investigated.
“This is a sad day for our country and another terrible reminder of how our police officers put themselves in danger each and every day to keep the rest of us safe,” she said.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said he was “devastated” by the shooting.
“My heart goes out to the family of this brave officer, who has paid the ultimate price for helping to keep Londoners safe. Tragic incidents like this are terrible reminders of the dangers our police officers face every single day,” Khan said on Twitter.
“My thoughts are also with the entire Metropolitan Police family, who I know will be deeply mourning their colleague at this extremely difficult time. I remain in close contact with the Commissioner to offer her and our Met officers and staff my support.”