By Brendan Pierson
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Accused Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman said in court on Monday that he will not testify in his own defense at his U.S. trial.
Guzman announced his decision after prosecutors rested their case against him in federal court in Brooklyn. After excusing the jury, U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan asked Guzman directly whether he understood it was his decision, not that of his lawyers, to testify or not.
“Yes, but they counseled me about it and I agree with them,” Guzman answered.
Had Guzman, 61, testified, it would have provided a fitting climax to an already dramatic trial. However, Guzman’s decision was widely expected, as testifying would have exposed him to cross-examination by prosecutors.
Guzman was extradited to the United States in January 2017 to face charges that he trafficked massive quantities of cocaine, heroin, marijuana and other drugs into the United States as leader of the Sinaloa Cartel.
Prosecutors have put more than 50 witnesses on the stand since the trial began in November, many of them former Guzman associates who have pleaded guilty to U.S. charges and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. Their testimony has offered an unprecedented look at the inner workings of the Mexican drug trade.
Jeffrey Lichtman, one of Guzman’s lawyers, said in his opening argument in November that his client was framed by the cartel’s true leader, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, with the help of corrupt government officials.
Lichtman said on Monday he planned to call two U.S. law enforcement agents, whom he did not name, as defense witnesses on Tuesday morning. Lichtman had said in a court filing on Saturday that he wanted to call the agents to rebut testimony by two of the prosecution’s witnesses about their earlier statements to law enforcement.
Judge Cogan said prosecutors should expect to begin their closing argument on Wednesday morning.
The trial has also featured accusations of corruption against Mexican government officials, the most explosive of which was that former Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto took a $100 million bribe from Guzman. A spokesman for Pena Nieto has denied the allegation.
Alejandro Edda, the Mexican actor who plays Guzman in the Netflix television drama “Narcos,” made a surprise appearance in the courtroom gallery Monday. Guzman grinned broadly at Edda after his lawyers told him who he was.
Edda later told reporters outside the courthouse that the smile “shook” him.
(Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; editing by Anthony Lin and Jonathan Oatis)