NEW YORK — Notorious Mexican drug lord and escape artist Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman is eager to go to trial but complained in a letter filed Thursday that his jail conditions are so harsh he can’t fairly defend himself in a U.S. drug-trafficking case.
Defense attorney Eduardo Balarezo told reporters that Guzman wanted to knock down any speculation he might plead guilty and cooperate with American authorities. The remarks came after a hearing where a judge set Sept. 5 for the start of jury selection at Guzman’s trial.
Guzman “wants to go to trial,” Balarezo said outside federal court in Brooklyn. “He’s not interested in cooperating. He’s not interested in cutting a deal.”
The lawyer also renewed complaints about conditions at a Manhattan jail where Guzman is being held in solitary confinement. In Mexico, Guzman twice escaped from prison, the second time via a mile-long (1.6 kilometer-long) tunnel dug to the shower in his cell.
The Manhattan cell where Guzman spends 23 hours a day “is either too hot or too cold” and he suffers “constant headaches,” Balarezo said. He also is mostly cut off from contact with his family and even his defense team, the lawyer added.
In a letter filed with the court later in the day on Thursday, Guzman said he’s being treated unfairly.
“I thought that the American justice system was at least going to give me the opportunity to defend myself,” he wrote. “But now I see that that is not the truth. All I ask for is a fair trial.”
At the hearing, U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan denied Guzman’s request to speak in open court about the case after prosecutors expressed concerns he could be trying to send messages to his cohorts. The judge said that in the future he would need to be notified in advance on what Guzman wanted to talk about before he could speak.
Guzman was sent to the United States in 2017 to face charges that his Sinaloa cartel laundered billions of dollars and oversaw a ruthless campaign of murders and kidnappings.
Earlier this month, the judge agreed to withhold the names of jurors at the trial to address any fears that they could be harassed or intimidated. Jurors also will be escorted to and from the courthouse by deputy U.S. marshals and sequestered from the public while inside.
Prosecutors offered “strong and credible reasons” why the jury needs protection, including Guzman’s use of sicarios, or hitmen, to carry out thousands of acts of violence over more than two decades, the judge wrote in an order.
In the past, Guzman used his connections to continue to run his drug empire from behind bars, prosecutors said. They also claim that in the United States, Guzman had the support of criminals who are not under his direct control.
If convicted, Guzman could face life in prison.