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U.S. Government Prepares To Rest Its Case Against 'El Chapo'


Will Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman take the stand? The prosecution is wrapping up its arguments in the trial of the notorious drug kingpin. Federal prosecutors have presented dozens of witnesses to testify over the past several months in a Brooklyn courthouse. Now it will be the defense's turn to make its case, and it's not yet clear whether or not they will put Guzman on the stand. He faces 17 counts linked to running the massive drug trafficking organization and has already been convicted of crimes in Mexico.

Joining us on the line, Keegan Hamilton. He is U.S. editor for VICE News. He hosts a podcast called "Chapo: Kingpin On Trial." Keegan, thanks for being here.

KEEGAN HAMILTON: Morning. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Let's start with what is going to happen today. The prosecution gets its last chance to make its arguments. What are you expecting?

HAMILTON: So the prosecution still has one cooperating witness on the stand, and then they have two law enforcement witnesses afterwards who should be brief. They'll get a chance to talk to the jury again when they make their closing arguments. But this is their last chance to present evidence to the jury and, you know, prove their case that El Chapo is the leader of the Sinaloa cartel and is guilty of all of these crimes he's accused of.

MARTIN: What is left in their case to make? I mean, what are these witnesses expected to say that others have not?

HAMILTON: We haven't heard about El Chapo's final capture in 2016. They sort of have taken the jury chronologically from the late '80s start of Chapo's career up until the very end. And we - last week, we heard about his 2015 escape. But we haven't heard about when he was recaptured, which involved a shootout with Mexican marines and another attempted escape through a tunnel that didn't quite work out for him.

MARTIN: All right. So the prosecution gets to question these final witnesses, and then it's the defense's turn. The big question is whether or not they're gonna put Guzman on the stand. What are the factors that go into that decision?

HAMILTON: So the factors that go into that decision are what do they have to lose? And at this point, it seems like the defense has nothing to lose. Usually a defendant taking the stand is sort of a last-ditch effort. And that seems like it might be needed in this case. I mean, on one hand, he opens himself up to self-incrimination and perjury if he's questioned by prosecutors on cross-examination. On the other hand, he can sort of maybe control his narrative a little bit and respond to some of the witnesses who have testified against him.

MARTIN: This trial, as we've noted, it's been going on for months. And the jury has had to hear all kinds of gruesome stories recounting some of these horrific crimes. Can you detail moments that have stood out to you?

HAMILTON: Absolutely. So, you know, initially the judge in this case said this is a drug conspiracy trial. It's not a murder trial. Throughout the course of the trial, there have been references to murders that were committed, kidnappings, things of that nature.

But it wasn't really laid out in vivid, graphic detail until the end of last week, when a witness who was El Chapo's bodyguard for a while and a hitman for him came to testify and described in just the most gruesome, vivid details you can imagine him - El Chapo personally pulling the trigger on executions, personally being involved in beatings of men who'd been kidnapped - we heard description of one man who was shot and buried while he was still alive - just truly stomach-churning stuff that really seemed to impact the jury and, frankly, everyone who was in the courtroom.

MARTIN: When do you expect a verdict?

HAMILTON: We're expecting a verdict sometime in the next two, possibly three weeks. Although, given the totality of the evidence that's come across so far, it's hard to see them taking long to need a guilty verdict.

MARTIN: Keegan Hamilton of VICE News. Thanks. We appreciate it.

HAMILTON: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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