El Chapo trial: 35 days of murder, mistresses and matching velvet blazers

The trial, held under unprecedented security in Brooklyn, delivered on its promise of exposing Guzman's legendary ruthlessness and cunning.
Image: El Chapo
Mexico's top drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is escorted as he arrives at Long Island MacArthur airport in New York, U.S., Jan. 19, 2017, after his extradition from Mexico.Interior Ministry of Mexico / AFP - Getty Images file

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By Rich Schapiro

They heard about the time he eluded a police raid by scurrying, bare naked, through a tunnel hidden under a bathtub, his mistress trailing behind.

They read text messages he sent to his wife, including one in which he mused that their daughter was so brave he was going to "give her an AK-47 so she can hang with me."

And they listened as a former associate described seeing him brutalize two rivals with a stick for hours, shoot each one in the head, and then order his men to toss the bodies into a giant bonfire. "I don't want any bones to remain," he said, according to the witness.

The jurors deciding the fate of notorious Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman sat through 35 days of surreal and often outlandish testimony.

Drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is escorted into a helicopter at Mexico City's airport, following his recapture during an intense military operation in Los Mochis, in Sinaloa State on Jan. 8, 2016.Alfredo Estrella / AFP - Getty Images file

A total of 56 prosecution witnesses were called to the stand, telling stories that at times echoed a Shakespearean drama and at others detailed a Sinaloa cartel bloodbath.

The case is expected to go to the jury on Monday. It will be up to the seven women and five men to decide whether Guzman, 61, is guilty of trafficking more than 440,000 pounds of cocaine, laundering millions of dollars and conspiring to murder a slew of rivals.

The trial, held under unprecedented security at the federal courthouse in Brooklyn, New York, delivered on its promise of exposing Guzman's legendary ruthlessness and cunning.

There were tales of cold-blooded murders, lessons on how the cartel waterproofed cocaine packages and cinematic descriptions of how he narrowly escaped police dragnets.

The witnesses' nicknames — Lollipop, The Fat One, The Godfather — were in some cases as colorful as the testimony itself.

One of them, a longtime Guzman bodyguard known as "Memín," described seeing his boss end a man's life in especially gruesome fashion.

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The rival cartel member was first tortured for days, the witness said, burned with a clothing iron and left to suffer in a hen house until workers began complaining about the smell.

"He was pretty much decomposing," said the former bodyguard, whose real name is Isaias Valde Rios.

Guzman ordered his men to dig a grave. Then the blindfolded captive was brought before the Sinaloa cartel leader, Rios said.

Guzman yelled at the man, grabbed a gun and shot him, Rios said. The victim was still "gasping for air" when he was tossed into the hole in the ground and buried under a pile of dirt, Rios said.

The trial took a particularly riveting turn when former Colombian cocaine kingpin Juan Carlos Ramírez Abadía walked up to the stand to testify against Guzman. Abadía's face showed the drastic effects of a series of plastic surgeries he'd endured to avoid recognition by rivals or police.

Colombian drug lord Juan Carlos "Chupeta" Ramirez Abadia had plastic surgery to alter his appearance as seen in this before, left, and after, right, photo combination released by the Department of Justice on Nov. 29, 2018.Department of Justice/Brooklyn Federal Court / AFP - Getty Images

There was also testimony of audacious missions to salvage sunken parcels of cocaine — and multi-million-dollar political payoffs.

In one of the more headline-grabbing days of testimony, Guzman's personal secretary alleged that the boss paid a $100 million bribe to former Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto (Peña Nieto denied it).

Guzman was forced to suffer through the indignity of seeing the text messages he exchanged with his wife — and other messages he traded with his mistress — broadcast to the courtroom.

In 2012, he sent a message to his girlfriend, asking how drug sales were going. "Oh, like busy bees," replied the woman, Agustina Cabanillas Acosta. "Nonstop, my love."

Minutes later, prosecutors revealed a text message Acosta sent to a friend, revealing that she knew he was likely spying on her. "I'm way smarter than him," she wrote.

Over its nearly three months, the trial drew a steady pack of reporters and even some celebrity spectators. Near the end of the prosecution's case, Alejandro Edda, the actor who plays Guzman on the Netflix series "Narcos: Mexico," walked into the courtroom.

Edda later told reporters that being so close to Guzman made "his hands sweaty" and his "heart beat fast."

Guzman's former beauty-queen wife, Emma Coronel Aispuro, added a layer of drama to the proceedings without saying a word. Days after Guzman's mistress took the stand, the cartel leader and his wife showed up to court in matching burgundy velvet blazers, an apparent display of sartorial solidarity.

The wife of "El Chapo", Emma Coronel Aispuro, left, listens as attorney Michelle Gelernt answers questions from reporters outside the U.S. Federal Courthouse in Brooklyn after a hearing in the case of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman on Feb. 3, 2017 in New York.Don Emmert / AFP - Getty Images file

It took federal prosecutors 11 weeks to present their case. The defense rested after 30 minutes.

In closing arguments, prosecutors told the jury an "avalanche of evidence" proved that Guzman lorded over a murderous drug empire. Guzman's defense countered that the government's case was a fantasy concocted by a parade of criminals who "lie, steal, cheat, deal drugs and kill people" for a living.

Guzman spoke aloud only once during the trial, when he politely told the judge he was electing not to testify in his own defense.

"Señor judge, me and my attorneys have spoken about this," Guzman said, "and I will reserve."

Now it's the jury's turn to do the talking.

Emily Berk contributed.