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Murderous drug lord, or just a myth?
Those are two faces of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, as described by lawyers in a New York courtroom. He is on trial for multiple counts of alleged drug-trafficking and murder.
"Money, drugs, murder, a vast global trafficking organization, that's what this trial is about," prosecutor Adam Fels told jurors as the courtroom drama began.
"El Chapo," a nickname for the 5'6" Guzman, means "Shorty." He appeared in court in a dark suit and tie, smiled and waved as he entered the courtroom.
A juror, in a letter the judge read aloud, asked to be excused because she suffered from anxiety. She wasn't the only one after reports about death threats and "extraordinary steps to keep witnesses alive."
As the prosecutor and defense attorney settled in to their opening arguments, they painted starkly different pictures of the internationally famous figure. Fels said Guzman used trucks, planes, and even a submarine to smuggle narcotics.
El Chapo was so successful, Forbes named him as one of the richest people in the world. In 2009, he was worth an estimated $1 billion.
But Fels said Guzman killed to get there. He had hundreds of armed men, a monogrammed, diamond-encrusted handgun and a gold-plated assault rifle.
"Guzman himself pulled the trigger and ordered the disposal of bodies," Fels said.
"Leader of Nothing"
Defense attorney Jeffrey Lichtman said his client was no longer the man people feared. He said El Chapo spent a lot of time in Mexican prisons; meanwhile the drug traffic never slowed down.
"Yet, he's blamed for being the leader," Lichtman said. "The truth is, he was the leader of nothing."
The trial, which is expected to take four months, is not the first for the accused. In 1993, he was arrested, convicted and sentenced to 20 years in a Mexican prison.
According to the story, he escaped in a laundry cart. He was arrested again in 2014, but escaped through a tunnel. He was arrested the last time in 2016.
The media reported that the trial is one of the highest-security court proceedings in the city since the 1993 bombings of the World Trade Center. Bomb-detecting dogs and police scoured the building before the trial began.