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"It's a sham and you know it": Defense slams prosecution during closing arguments in El Chapo trial

Closing arguments in El Chapo trial

A day after the government presented its closing arguments against Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, describing his more than two-decade long career rising through the ranks and leading the cartel that flooded the United States with tons of cocaine, the defense had its turn. The defense told the jury they "don't need to give in to the myth of El Chapo." 

Guzman's attorney Jeffrey Lichtman started his team's closing argument, saying "a house that's built on a rotten foundation won't stand for long." He also called the prosecution orchestrated a "scripted event" over the past three months in court and dismissed the government's witnesses who "lie, steal, cheat, deal drugs and kill people" for a living.

Guzman faces drug and murder conspiracy charges and could face life in prison if convicted. On Monday, Judge Cogan is expected to provide several hours of instructions to the jury. The prosecution must now resubmit suggestions for the verdict sheet ahead of Monday's instructions. The jury instructions will be specifically tailored to accommodate some of what jurors heard today.

Once the jury is charged Monday morning, deliberations will begin.

Lichtman said Guzman was "arrested over and over again" despite the $100 million bribe a drug trafficker testified his client allegedly paid to the former Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. "Who do you think paid that bribe," Lichtman asked the jurors. He said Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada handled the payoff and remains free while his client was "hunted like an animal." He called Guzman "the rabbit that Mexican authorities have been chasing." The defense has sought to paint Zambada as the true leader of the Sinaloa cartel.

El Chapo
This undated handout photograph obtained from Brooklyn federal court Nov. 26, 2018, shows a photo of Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman. U.S. Department of Justice

Guzman was broke. "The dude has no money," Lichtman said. El Chapo was unable to pay workers and living on the cheap between 2007-2013. "When the rubber meets the road, he was $20 million in debt for six years," Lichtman said.

There's a pattern the defense sees: "Cooperate, bribe ... cocaine keeps flowing — yesterday, today, tomorrow, forever."

"What a world, huh?"

Lichtman was frequently folksy and humorous. He's enraged over the perks lined up for the cooperating witnesses who helped the government's case against Guzman. He called it a "scripted event" — and a "play" put on by the government.

"Did you even know before you came here they give these deals to such bad people? Is that the country you thought you were living in?" Lichtman said in a Brooklyn federal court Thursday. "They lied to you over and over again and the government didn't stop them ... you people can stop them." 

Lichtman said the government didn't require any financial statements from their witnesses, who likely stashed their money. "Here's the ugly truth, they're all getting out when Chapo Guzman is convicted," Lichtman said. At one point he claimed, "they'd run over your mothers to convict that man."

Closing arguments begin in El Chapo trial

Lichtman dinged Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrea Goldbarg's closing argument Wednesday, saying she was "talking about these murders like it's established fact."

He asked jurors to think about the whereabouts of any evidence that points to reports of missing people in Mexico and whether Guzman had any role in the murders. He joked Guzman "killed like a zillion of them" and said, "this is Mexico, not Mars ... there's gotta be some notice."

"None of these witnesses are dying in jail," Lichtman said. He said the cooperating witnesses are untruthful about their knowledge and involvement on numerous fronts, which benefits the government. "If their case is so strong, why do their witnesses have to lie to you?" he asked

He then displayed on the courtroom projector a "get out of jail free" card  from the board game Monopoly and said, "... In the end you must decide if you can live with this, their lies ... prosecutors talk about their testimony like it's Gospel."

"You're smart people, that's why we picked you," he said.

"It's a show ... it's a sham and you know it," Lichtman huffed. And then he puffed and paused. He continued, and said, "What do you think would happen to a regular person like us if we dealt drugs?" His answer to the men and women of the jury was curt. "Thrown into jail and forgotten," he said. The government objected to this statement. It was sustained.

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Lichtman closed things down with an apology-of-sorts to the jurors: "I've exhausted all of you ... I am fighting for a man's life here." He said he sought to "cover the walls of this courtroom with reasonable doubt ... there is massive reasonable doubt here."

"I beg of you," Lichtman pleaded with the jury, "look into your hearts and if you have that doubt, don't let go of it." He ended with: "You don't have to give in to the myth of El Chapo ... no, no, no, not guilty."

The government's rebuttal, delivered by Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Liskamm also urged the jury to use its "common sense" by asking them "who's on trial?" She said the tactics by the defense were "meant to distract you from the cold hard evidence presented" throughout their case.

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Court sketch depicts Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman seen in federal court in Brooklyn on Wed., Jan. 30, 2019. Christine Cornell

"We did not pick these witnesses, the defendant picked these witnesses," Liskamm said. "The day cocaine conspiracies are made in heaven is the day we can call angels as witnesses."

"We're not asking you to take these witnesses at face value," she continued. "We're showing you how these witnesses are corroborated." She later discussed how "any one of these 14 cooperating witnesses would be enough to convict the defendant." Liskamm added, "In order to believe the defense argument in this case you have to believe the defendant is the unluckiest man in the world."

The government reminded jurors their questionnaire contained an oath — to set aside any personal bias, especially when it comes to the cooperating witnesses — and argued "the defense is pointing fingers everywhere but where the evidence points."

The proceedings ended at 4:15 p.m. There is no court planned Friday.

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