Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, one of the world’s most notorious criminals, is demanding to appear in person at his next US court hearing and not by video link.
Judge Brian Cogan last week ordered that 59-year-old Guzman, who spectacularly escaped from prison twice in Mexico, appear by video link for the brief procedural hearing to “minimize disruption from physical transportation.”
But in a five-page letter dated Monday, his American public defenders told Cogan that Guzman “objects” and requests to “be physically present in the courtroom” on Friday and at other future hearings.
Guzman, accused of running one of the world’s biggest drug empires, was extradited to the United States on January 19 and appeared without handcuffs and without incident to plead not guilty to a raft of firearms, drug trafficking and conspiracy charges during a brief hearing on January 20.
Since then, he has been held in solitary confinement at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, unable to make telephone calls or communicate directly with his family or lawyers in Mexico, his lawyers said.
“He is locked in a cell 23 hours a day and only allowed to leave to meet with his attorneys and for one hour of solitary exercise,” they wrote in the letter.
“His absence from the courtroom would necessarily lead to the public impression that Mr Guzman is too dangerous to be brought to the courtroom.”
The letter complained that Guzman’s extradition, which his lawyers had strenuously resisted, came “suddenly and without warning to his attorneys.”
In New York he is charged on a sweeping 17-count indictment that spans decades of alleged criminal enterprise, drug importation, illegal use of firearms and money laundering conspiracy.
The MCC is a two-mile (three-kilometer) drive from Cogan’s federal court room in Brooklyn and has stringent security measures. In the past, a handful of inmates have nonetheless managed to escape.
Guzman escaped from prison in Mexico for the first time in 2001 in a laundry cart and through a tunnel under his shower in 2015.
If found guilty at trial in New York, he stands to spend the rest of his life in a maximum security US prison.