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The shocking violence that characterized the reign of ‘El Chapo’

After a trial lasting nearly three months, the Mexican drug lord Joaquin Guzman, more widely known as “El Chapo,” was convicted Tuesday and now faces the possibility of life in prison. Prosecutors said that during Guzman's reign, the Sinaloa cartel became the largest and most prolific drug-trafficking operation in the world. Nick Schifrin talks to Rolling Stone's Noah Hurowitz about the verdict.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    After a nearly three-month trial in New York that showed the inner workings of his drug cartel, the kingpin known as El Chapo was found guilty by a jury today. He now faces life in prison.

    Nick Schifrin has more on today's verdict and whether it will affect the wider ongoing drug trade.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Today's verdict came after years of arrests, dramatic escapes from prison and international manhunts for El Chapo, whose real name is Joaquin Guzman.

    Prosecutors said, during Guzman's reign, the Sinaloa cartel became the largest and most prolific drug trafficking organization in the world. Throughout the trial, attorneys revealed new details about the financing and history of the cartel, details of murders committed personally by Guzman, and how, for decades, the cartel sent vast amounts of cocaine, heroin, meth and synthetic drugs into the U.S.

    And they said El Chapo himself made nearly $14 billion in illicit profits. The jury deliberated for six days before delivering its verdict.

    Defense lawyers said they — quote — "never faced a case with so many cooperating witnesses and so much evidence," but said they plan to appeal.

    Noah Hurowitz has been covering the trial for "Rolling Stone" and joins me now.

    Noah Hurowitz, thanks very much for being on the "NewsHour."

    Can you tell us about the scene in the courtroom today and how El Chapo responded to the verdict?

  • Noah Hurowitz:

    I mean, we have been waiting now for about a week, or a little over a week for the verdict to come.

    And when it finally came, there was a mad dash upstairs. Everybody had to go through this TSA-style security checkpoint just to get into the courtroom. And then, once we settled in, Guzman came in. He has been in pretty good spirits in the last couple — in the last week, because every day that the jury deliberated was another day that he didn't have to be in solitary confinement.

    But when the verdict finally came, he did seem a little bit crestfallen, although he tried to signal hope to his wife, who was sitting in the second row of the gallery. He gave her a little smile, a nod, a thumbs-up, before being led away.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    There were more than 50 witnesses, more than a dozen cartel insiders.

    From the outside, this seemed like an open-and-shut case. Why do you think it took the jury more than a week?

  • Noah Hurowitz:

    The actual charges were pretty complex.

    So there was just a lot of evidence to go over. There was a sort of complexity to the actual charges. And, you know, we had three months of testimony. Like you said, we had 14 cooperating witnesses, each of them talking about a different phase of Guzman's life, a different part of his career, and, you know, dozens of law enforcement witnesses.

    So all of this together just was a lot to go over, and the jury really took their time with it.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Guzman is notorious, but, as you mentioned, we learned a lot about phases of his life and of his career. What was most surprising?

  • Noah Hurowitz:

    The most shocking part of testimony, I think, just from being there the whole time, was there was a witness named Isaias Valdez Rios who told this just horrific tale of violence.

    He described how Guzman personally tortured and executed several rival cartel members. And just he brought us right there. You know, he brought the jurors right there.

    And during that testimony, more so than any time during the whole trial, the jurors, some of them had just these thousand-yard stares. They were staring at their feet. It was — you could hear a pin drop.

    And I think that day was the most shocking, because, throughout it all, we got a sense of Guzman as a person, but never before had we really heard of that level of violence or brutality. And the details in that testimony were just shocking.

    And it was interesting, because the murders were only small part of the case. He wasn't actually charged with murder. But that was part of the continuing criminal enterprise. But I think that really helped, you know, jurors see El Chapo in this new, brutal light that was elided at times by the more businesslike aspects of the cartel operations.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And those cartel operations, again, they are notorious. But what did we learn about how the Sinaloa cartel works?

  • Noah Hurowitz:

    Well, these witnesses really brought us inside the Sinaloa cartel.

    Starting from the beginning, you know, really right up until the end, we learned details about how they trafficked cocaine, how they dealt with rivals, how they made connections with suppliers in Colombia, and really just, you know, the day-to-day operations.

    We learned about how El Chapo lived his life in the mountains when he was in hiding between 2001 and 2014. And we learned a lot about how he communicated and how he was able to direct the day-to-day operations of the cartel from afar.

    And a lot of this was stuff that was — that really hadn't been known before. A lot of this was stuff that had to be described by insiders.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And what can we take from this guilty verdict about not only the future of this cartel, but the future of the drug trade from the United States' southern border into the United States?

  • Noah Hurowitz:

    Well, one thing that this tells us is that the U.S. is willing to and able to prosecute drug lords from other countries, however powerful.

    However, you know, the leadership of the Sinaloa cartel is relatively intact. There's no stop to the drugs flowing across the border. Recently, federal agents made the largest seizure of fentanyl in history on the Arizona border.

    You know, there is just — these individual cartel leaders may be fallible, and they may be vulnerable to arrest and extradition to the United States, but it doesn't seem like this, the prosecution and the conviction of El Chapo, has really done anything at all to stem the tide of drugs flowing into the U.S.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Noah Hurowitz with "Rolling Stone," thank you very much.

  • Noah Hurowitz:

    Thanks so much for having me.

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