NEW YORK — The trial that could send accused Mexican drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán to prison for life is moving toward a conclusion: Closing arguments are expected as soon as next week.
But the timetable could be disrupted by a lingering question: Will Guzmán speak in his own defense, to rebut the avalanche of testimony provided by Guzmán’s former associates?
The defense team raised the possibility when they included their client’s name on the list of witnesses they might call. They’re expected to make a final decision when the government rests its case, as early as Monday.
Defendants in high-profile criminal cases frequently opt not to testify, in part because taking the witness stand exposes them to potentially damaging cross-examination by prosecutors.
Ross Ulbricht, the suspect accused of founding and running the Silk Road drug-trafficking “darknet” website, didn’t testify. Neither did so-called pharma bro Martin Shkreli, who was accused of scamming investors by violating securities laws.
Both were convicted.
Hermann Walz is a former New York City prosecutor turned criminal defense attorney.
For Guzmán, he said, the risks of taking the stand could outweigh any benefits.
“What’s he going to say – ‘It wasn’t me?'” Walz asked. “If you get up on the stand and try that, it opens the door to a lot of questions about what you did do.”
Guzmán’s legal team, aware of the risks, has focused largely on trying to undermine the credibility of the former members of Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel who have depicted their alleged former boss as a murderer who led a broad conspiracy to smuggle tons of cocaine, heroin and other narcotics into the United States.
A court filing shows the defense team has made tentative plans to call federal investigators in a bid to highlight apparent discrepancies between written summaries of interviews with a prosecution witness and the actual testimony the witness provided in court.
But given the volume of evidence brought by the prosecution, at least one prominent defense attorney unconnected with the case feels Guzmán might need something stronger – and has nothing to lose by testifying.
“If Mr. Guzmán wants to tell his story, it would humanize him for the jury,” said Bruce Cutler, the New York lawyer who won three acquittals for accused Gambino crime family boss John Gotti in the 1980s and early 1990s.