Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán Loera, the notorious drug lord known as “El Chapo,” whose dramatic prison escapes fed his legend as an untouchable kingpin running the world’s largest narcotics trafficking group, was sentenced Wednesday to life in prison.
Before the sentence was imposed, Guzmán, 62, turned to look at his family in the packed courtroom, saluted them, tapped his heart and then angrily denounced his treatment.
“When extradited, I expected to have a fair trial where justice was blind and my fame would not be a factor, but what happened was actually the opposite,” he said before the sentence was imposed. “The government of the United States will send me to a prison where my name will never be heard again. I will take this opportunity to say there was no justice here.”
Speaking through an interpreter and reading from prepared remarks, Guzmán said the harsh terms of his confinement are “psychological, emotional, mental torture, 24 hours a day.”
Guzmán, who personally ordered people to be tortured and murdered while he oversaw the bloodthirsty Sinaloa Cartel, said his prison conditions showed a “lack of respect for human dignity” and blamed the judge for his conviction.
“The U.S. is not better than any other corrupt country,” Guzmán said.
In sentencing him to spend the rest of his life in prison, U.S. District Court Judge Brian Cogan said the law gave him no discretion to impose a lighter sentence, and that the drug lord did not deserve leniency.
“The overwhelming evil is so severe,” Cogan said.
Federal sentencing laws made it a foregone conclusion that Guzmán would receive multiple life sentences, and his lawyer, Jeffrey Lichtman, spent little time asking the judge for mercy.
“History will treat this verdict with skepticism,” said Lichtman. “What occurred here did not uphold an appearance of justice.”
Guzmán was convicted in February after a three-month trial which detailed his murderous rise to power in Mexico, where his Sinaloa Cartel moved billions of dollars’ worth of drugs from Mexico to the United States.
Witnesses at the trial also described multimillion dollar bribes paid to senior Mexican officials to keep the cartels running.
One of his victims, Andrea Velez, also spoke at his sentencing, saying: “Today, I want to stop being a name without a face.”
Weeping, she said it was a miracle that she was still alive, “because Mr. Guzmán tried to kill me” by using her as bait to kidnap an Ecuadoran official.
Prosecutors introduced extensive evidence throughout the trial — including 1 million intercepted messages between alleged cartel members and testimony from 14 cooperating witnesses — detailing ghastly killings in addition to the smuggling.
The proceedings offered vivid insight into the cartel’s “brutal force and intimidation,” its reach and the profits it reaped. Over 25 years, Guzmán earned the organization more than $14 billion while exhibiting an extraordinary ability to evade law enforcement.
After the conviction, Richard Donoghue, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, pronounced that Guzmán’s “bloody reign” had come to an end. “And the myth that he could not be brought to justice has been laid to rest,” Donoghue said at the time.
Defense attorneys argued at trial that Guzmán was a scapegoat, railroaded by witnesses who were “gutter human beings” lying to save themselves. After six days of deliberations, the jury found him guilty on all 10 counts on the indictment.
Renowned for escaping two maximum-security prisons in Mexico — first in 2001, with the assistance of prison guards, and again in 2015 through a tunnel beneath the shower in his jail cell — Guzmán was recaptured in 2016 after a meeting with actor Sean Penn tipped authorities to his whereabouts near Mexico’s northwestern coast. He has lived in solitary confinement since his extradition from Mexico the following year.
Last month, the judge denied Guzmán’s application for more comfortable prison conditions, citing prosecutors’ suggestions that the request could be part of a ploy to escape from prison for a third time.