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Will alleged Mexican drug lord El Chapo testify in his own defense?

El Chapo trial: Prosecution may rest this week
El Chapo trial: Prosecution likely to rest case this week 04:36

As federal prosecutors in Brooklyn wrap up their case against Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman this week, lawyers for the accused Mexican drug kingpin have given little indication about how they plan to counter three months of testimony by some 54 government witnesses.

One option is to call Guzman to the stand in his own defense. Defense lawyers have raised the possibility of calling Guzman, 61, as a witness, but probably won't make a final decision until after the government rests its case.

"We will not disclose Joaquin's plans about testifying until the time comes to inform the court," Guzman lawyer Eduardo Balarezo said in a statement, Reuters news agency reported.

Guzman faces a sweeping 17-count indictment charging him with leading a criminal enterprise responsible for importing and distributing vast quantities of meth, heroin, cocaine, and other illegal drugs into the country.

Isaias Valdez Rios, a former security guard, personal aide and pilot for Guzman, testified last week that the alleged Mexican drug lord personally tortured and executed enemies, including one who was buried alive.

El Chapo trial hears gruesome details about cartel violence 05:30

Experts say putting Guzman on the stand would be risky because it would open him up to cross-examination by prosecutors. 

CBS News legal analyst Rikki Klieman, a criminal defense lawyer, said she "cannot believe that these lawyers want El Chapo to testify," but can imagine a scenario where Guzman takes the stand. 

"If you don't want to believe that he is the head of the Sinaloa cartel, which is the first count, which is what we call the RICO count, a racketeering count," Klieman said, "I would guess that you certainly believe he was involved in the criminal enterprise." 

The prosecution has "done it's job," Klieman said. "I can't imagine how [the jury] will not convict him of the other counts, which is why [Guzman] might say, 'Go for broke. I have nothing to lose. I want to tell my story even if I go down in flames because at least I told it my way.'"

El Chapo's lawyers have argued that Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada is the true leader of the Sinaloa Cartel and have sought to portray cooperating witnesses as unreliable opportunists willing to exaggerate their client's involvement in the drug trade in hope of more lenient sentences in their own cases.

"When I was trying big conspiracy cases, particularly drug cases, I never wanted to put on a defense," said Klieman. "I always wanted to argue that the government witnesses were not worthy of belief."

Guzman's lawyers have filed a motion to bring an unnamed witness who is being held in custody somewhere else to testify for the defense.

Klieman said defense witnesses could offer the jury an alternative explanation of the evidence, but that strategy may have limits.

"There is an instruction about one lie means you could disregard all of the testimony. So if you don't believe one fact, if you don't believe one witness, you can disregard all of the testimony of that witness, " Klieman said. "But does that mean all 13 cooperating witnesses were lying? Well, that's a little tough."

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