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Mexican Drug Kingpin 'El Chapo' Is Sentenced To Life In Prison


Joaquin Guzman, El Chapo, is on his way to prison for life. A federal judge in Brooklyn yesterday sentenced the head of Mexico's Sinaloa drug cartel to life in prison without possibility of parole. The sentence also includes a multibillion-dollar financial penalty.

Vice News senior reporter Keegan Hamilton has been following this trial since the beginning. He is host of the Vice podcast "Chapo: Kingpin On Trial," and he's in our studios here in New York. Good morning.

KEEGAN HAMILTON: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What was it like to be in the courtroom yesterday?

HAMILTON: It was a moment of drama, and somewhat unexpected drama. I mean, the sentence was mandatory under the law that he was going to get life. But what happened was Chapo spoke at length for the first time.

INSKEEP: He hadn't testified in his defense before.

HAMILTON: He spoke a few words to the judge - good morning, thank you - during the course of the trial, but this was the first time that he's been really able to speak his mind. And so he gave about a 10-minute statement that he prepared, talking about how the conditions of his confinement in New York in solitary confinement were torture, talking about how he thought his conviction was unjust because the court didn't investigate reports of juror misconduct.

INSKEEP: OK. Did he acknowledge any of his crimes?

HAMILTON: He really showed virtually no remorse whatsoever. One of his victims, a former cartel member who he allegedly tried to have kidnapped and killed, spoke. And as she was describing this moment where she was being abducted, he was turned and was blowing kisses at his wife in the gallery, so you could really see that it wasn't having too much of an effect on him.

INSKEEP: Well, I also want to ask because federal prosecutors said he himself tortured people in extraordinary ways, and now he says his confinement is torture. What about his confinement, according to El Chapo, anyway, is torture?

HAMILTON: I mean, he is in, perhaps, the most extreme form of solitary confinement you could have in the United States. He has very minimal human contact, no outdoor exercise. We talked about how, you know, the air in his cell is giving him migraines and hurting his throat. He has to - you make earplugs out of toilet paper in order to sleep. And now he's going, likely, to this supermax prison in Colorado, which is also a pretty extreme form of solitary confinement.

INSKEEP: Meaning that he will have very little human contact from now until whenever he dies.

HAMILTON: Exactly right. He will be at that prison likely until the day he's gone.

INSKEEP: You know, this may be hard to look into the man's mind, but sometimes, you hear about a criminal or a dictator or an authoritarian who anticipates, someday, I'm going to come to a terrible end. Do you think that he knew someday he would face an end like this?

HAMILTON: I mean, I hate to read the guy's mind, but it's - everything that I've come to understand about him is that he thought he could keep getting away with it. I mean, this is a guy who was - he'd escaped twice from prison in Mexico and was reportedly planning another escape before he was extradited. So, you know, maybe yesterday was the moment he realized that there was no getting out; he was going to spend the rest of his life in a U.S. prison. But who knows? Perhaps only he knows.

INSKEEP: I wonder if he is also bothered by losing the $12 billion. That's the penalty - right? - $12 billion.

HAMILTON: Well, prosecutors are trying to find $12.6 billion, but so far, they've come up empty. And there's - that value is calculated by the total street value of all the drugs that he shipped to the U.S. over 30 years, so it's not the actual cash assets he has.

INSKEEP: He's surely spent some of that over time.

HAMILTON: Certainly.

INSKEEP: And whatever is left somebody else out there in the Sinaloa cartel has?

HAMILTON: I mean, perhaps. I mean, his sons and his brother have taken over the family business, so assume they have some money, but they're not going to be providing that to the feds anytime soon.

INSKEEP: Mr. Hamilton, thanks so much. Appreciate it. That's Vice News senior reporter Keegan Hamilton this morning.

(SOUNDBITE OF TOR'S "VAULTS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.