NEW YORK – El Chapo's lawyers raised concerns of potential juror misconduct and were reviewing their options Wednesday after a member of the jury at the Mexican drug lord's trial told a news website that several jurors looked at media coverage of the case.
The juror told VICE News that at least five members of the jury at Joaquin Guzman's trial followed news reports and Twitter feeds about the case, against a judge's orders, and were aware of potentially prejudicial material that jurors weren't supposed to see.
Guzman, 61, was convicted Feb. 12 on drug and conspiracy charges that could put him behind bars for the rest of his life. Jurors deliberated for six days after three months of testimony. He is set to be sentenced in June.
Guzman's lawyer, Eduardo Balarezo, said the issues of potential juror misconduct raised in the VICE article "are deeply concerning and distressing."
"The juror's allegations of the jury's repeated and widespread disregard and contempt for the Court's instructions, if true, make it clear that Joaquin did not get a fair trial," Balarezo said in a statement. "We will review all available options before deciding on a course of action."
The U.S. Attorney's Office in Brooklyn declined to comment.
Members of the non-sequestered jury, whose names were never released, were warned repeatedly not to look at news coverage of the case, including "anything on TV, radio, newspaper, websites, blogs or social media."
Legal experts say that while it's too early to talk about potentially throwing out the verdict, this could at least lead the defense to ask for a chance to question jurors about their exposure to news coverage and whether it affected their decisions. And it starts with the juror who spoke out to VICE.
"This person has got to come in and answer some questions," said former federal prosecutor David S. Weinstein.
University of Dayton law professor Thaddeus Hoffmeister said Guzman's lawyers will have to demonstrate not only that there was juror misconduct but that it had a prejudicial impact. "The challenge now becomes for the court to determine whether this somehow influenced their decision making."
VICE reported that the juror requested anonymity and would not provide a name to the reporter. But the jury spoke to the reporter via video chat for two hours, and the reporter said he recognized the juror from the trial.
The juror told VICE at least five jurors involved in deliberations and two alternates heard about allegations that Guzman drugged and raped underage girls, even though that evidence was kept out of the trial because it was seen as prejudicial.
The allegations, made public on the eve of deliberations, appeared in news coverage and tweets about the case. The juror said the revelations didn't seem to factor into Guzman's guilty verdict, VICE reported.
"That didn't change nobody's mind for sure," the juror said, according to VICE. "We weren't really hung up on that. It was just like a five-minute talk and that's it, no more talking about that."
Asked why the judge wasn't told about jurors looking at news reports, the juror told VICE: "I thought we would get arrested. I thought they would hold me in contempt... I didn't want to say anything or rat out my fellow jurors. I didn't want to be that person. I kept it to myself."