'El Chapo' Sentenced To Life Plus 30 Years

Jul 17, 2019
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

El Chapo has been sentenced to life in prison. He's the man whose name became synonymous with murderous drug kingpin. He was captured in Mexico, brought to the United States, and his reputation was reflected in his sentence, which is actually life plus 30 years. Reporter Alexandra Starr is outside the federal courthouse in Brooklyn and was watching the sentencing. Good morning.

ALEXANDRA STARR, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What was it like to be there?

STARR: It was interesting, Steve. So the judge said from the get-go that the U.S. Congress has mandated the sentence, that he didn't have much leverage in it, but that he agreed with it, given the severity of the crimes that had been discussed in the courtroom.

INSKEEP: Life plus 30 years, and that's not the end of it - right? - there's also a financial penalty?

STARR: That's right. The U.S. government says, conservatively, he's taken in about $12 billion from the drug trade, and they want it paid back. Interestingly, Guzman spoke today. He had been largely silent throughout the trial. He did not testify on his own behalf. And he described the conditions under which he was being held. He said that the water was unhygienic, that the air was impure and was making him sick. As the defense pointed out, he made no comment of remorse. He did thank his wife and daughters for supporting him through what he said had been a hellish ordeal.

INSKEEP: You said Guzman. Of course, his formal name is Joaquin Guzman, the man who we came to know as El Chapo. What does he look like? He was in a prison uniform, I assume?

STARR: He wasn't. No, he wasn't. He was wearing, you know, a button-down shirt. It's striking to see him. I mean, he's a small guy, and he's overweight. There is sort of this dichotomy between his reputation and that - what he presents like. I mean, his nickname, El Chapo, more or less translates to Shorty, and you can see why he has it.

INSKEEP: And yet he became large, almost a legendary figure - in fact, definitely a legendary figure in Mexico. Can we just remember some of the crimes for which he was committed? It wasn't just making $12 billion off the drug trade. It was having a lot of people killed.

STARR: That's right. And there were stories about horrific torture. In some cases, he would revive people he was torturing so that they wouldn't have - you know, after they had passed out, revive them and then, like, continue pulling teeth. It was really, stuff from it - horrific stuff. And there was also material that had not been submitted in court about his assault of girls as young as 13. So there is no question this man has committed atrocious crimes over the 25 years that he has commandeered this - one of the most notorious drug cartels in Mexico.

INSKEEP: I want to circle back to the sentence - life plus 30 years. You're telling me that mandatory federal sentencing guidelines, which have been quite controversial in recent years, mandated such a heavy sentence, but the judge said he was totally fine with that.

STARR: That's right. That's right. And the point that Guzman made in his statement was that, you know, he was going to be sent to this supermax prison, and he wasn't going to be able to speak again. So he seemed to acknowledge that this is the end of the road for him. So this was his one opportunity to voice his discontent with how he's been treated.

INSKEEP: And that is an important point because, if he were in a Mexican prison, there would certainly be fear that he would escape, as has happened with drug lords over the years, but no expectation that he would ever get out of a federal prison in the United States.

STARR: That's exactly right.

INSKEEP: Alexandra, thanks.

STARR: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's reporter Alexandra Starr in Brooklyn, where "El Chapo" Guzman has been sentenced to life in prison plus another 30 years. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.