Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman told a judge Monday that he won't take the witness stand in his own defense at his U.S. drug-trafficking trial, ending speculation that he might go for broke and build on a notorious reputation already cemented by the sprawling government case against him.
"Your honor, me and my attorneys have spoken about this and I won't testify," Guzman said through a Spanish interpreter in a rare instance of him standing up and speaking in court.
The decision, along with the defense's plan to call only two brief witnesses, could bring the trial to a sooner-than-expected conclusion. Closing arguments were set to begin Wednesday with deliberations starting as soon as Friday afternoon.
Guzman's lawyers say he's being framed by a cadre of cooperators who were far more culpable in the Sinaloa cartel's wildly lucrative cocaine-smuggling enterprise.
As the government was finally concluding a case that began in mid-November, an actor who played Guzman on a popular Netflix series caused a minor stir Monday by showing up in the courtroom as a spectator. The defendant cracked a smile and waved when "Narcos: Mexico" cast member Alejandro Edda was pointed out to him, Edda told reporters.
"It was a very surreal moment, I have to be honest," the actor said.
Surreal was an apt description for many aspects of the government's case, including testimony from several cooperators that made Guzman's delight at seeing Edda seem understandable. Some of the more than 50 government witnesses said Guzman had spoken often of his dream of being portrayed on film or being the subject of an autobiography about his rise to power as the Sinaloa cartel boss.
The highlights of the government case offered plenty of potential material, starting early in the trial with testimony by a former Sinaloa cartel lieutenant describing how a car carrying Guzman into Mexico City shortly after he escaped prison in 2001 got a police escort by highway officers. A suspected informant claimed he had survived several attempts on his life ordered by Guzman, including a knife attack at a jail right after he heard a brass band ominously playing a favorite "corrido" folk song of Guzman's — "Un Puno De Tierra" — over and over.
A former Colombian kingpin who once supplied the cartel with tons of cocaine, Juan Carlos Ramirez Abadia, made an impact solely by the way he looked while testifying — with his face distorted by an extreme makeover meant to hide his identity. Ramirez explained that he had undergone at least three plastic surgeries that altered "my jawbone, my cheekbones, my eyes, my mouth, my ears, my nose."
Much of the testimony was devoted to how corrupt Mexican authorities had a voracious appetite for drug money. One cooperator said Guzman had paid former President Enrique Pena Nieto $100,000, a claim Pena Nieto denied.
Three of the latest witnesses kept the drama alive: A former cartel computer tech who testified how, after being flipped by the FBI, he showed them how to intercept the syndicate's phone calls and texts that Guzman had monitored with spyware; a member of the cartel security team who alleged Guzman shot a kidnapped victim before having the man buried alive; and an ex-girlfriend who described how they evaded a manhunt — one of his specialties — using a trapdoor underneath a safehouse bathroom that let to a drainage tunnel that he used to run away, naked, in 2014.
Guzman was captured in 2015 and escaped jail through a tunnel dug into his prison cell before he was sent in 2017 to the U.S. He's been in solitary confinement ever since and would face life in prison if convicted.