NEW YORK – Notorious Mexican drug lord and escape artist Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is having psychological problems that could hinder his ability to fight U.S. drug-trafficking charges, his lawyer and wife said Tuesday.
"We have noticed that his mental state has deteriorated, not just his memory but ... the way he understands things," attorney Eduardo Balarezo told reporters following a pretrial hearing in federal court in Brooklyn. "He's not the man he was when I first met him."
Appearing alongside the lawyer, Emma Coronel said she hasn't been allowed to communicate with her husband since he was turned over to U.S. authorities in 2017.
"My worry is his health because I know that he is in bad shape psychologically," Coronel said. "He feels bad from what lawyers are telling me. It worries me how is he going to start the trial if he's not in good health."
Guzman, who smiled and waved at his wife as he was led into court on Tuesday, has repeatedly complained about conditions at a Manhattan jail where he's being held in solitary confinement. U.S. authorities have authorized only very limited visits with his young daughters and sister.
U.S. prosecutors say the harsh conditions are needed because Guzman has a history in Mexico of using his connections to run his drug empire from behind bars. They also note Guzman twice escaped from prison, the second time via a mile-long (1.6 kilometer-long) tunnel dug to the shower in his cell.
In a letter to the court earlier this year, Guzman claimed that the light in his cell where he spends 23 hours a day is on at all hours. The cell has poor circulation and is kept at a temperature that's either "too hot" or "too cold," he added.
As a result, Guzman said he's had trouble sleeping, suffers constant headaches and vomits daily.
"I cannot focus to study the evidence in my case," he wrote. "It is torture 24 hours a day."
U.S. authorities have assured a judge they've taken steps to address the concerns.
Guzman has pleaded not guilty to charges that his Sinaloa cartel laundered billions of dollars and oversaw a ruthless campaign of murders and kidnappings. He faces life in prison if convicted at trial, which is set to begin in September.
Associated Press Writer Claudia Torrens contributed to this report.