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National

Mexican Drug Kingpin 'El Chapo' Sentenced To Life In Prison, Plus 30 Years

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

After a quarter-century of running one of the world's biggest drug rings, the man known as El Chapo was sentenced to life in prison plus 30 years today. Joaquin Guzman was convicted of a web of charges related to his leadership of the notorious Sinaloa Cartel. Shortly, after today's sentencing Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski spoke to reporters.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BRIAN BENCZKOWSKI: The long road that led Chapo Guzman from the mountains of Sinaloa to the courthouse behind us today was paved with death, drugs and destruction. But it ended today with justice.

SHAPIRO: Reporter Alexandra Starr was in the courthouse and joins us now. Hi there.

ALEXANDRA STARR, BYLINE: Hi.

SHAPIRO: Describe the scene in the courtroom today.

STARR: You know, Ari, it was striking. Here's this person who's one of the most notorious criminals since Al Capone. And you see him in person, and he's this old, disheveled, overweight guy. His nickname, El Chapo, loosely translates into Shorty. And he is short. He's also committed horrible crimes with impunity for more than two decades.

SHAPIRO: He spoke today for the first time in court, right? What did he say?

STARR: First, he said that he had not been given a fair trial. And he also wanted to talk about the conditions under which he's been held, which he described as torturous. He said the water was not potable and that they didn't have access to fresh air. He also thanked his wife and daughters for what he described as their unconditional support. He expressed no remorse for his crimes, some of which were truly vile. Apparently at one point, he hired a doctor to revive a person he was torturing so he could continue to inflict pain on his victim.

SHAPIRO: What did the judge say handing down the sentence?

STARR: So Judge Brian Cogan said that he was congressionally mandated to sentence Guzman to life in prison plus 30 years. He added that even if he hadn't been required to, he would have because of the, quote, "overwhelming evil" of Guzman's crimes.

SHAPIRO: And so what happens now? Is there going to be an appeal or is this the end?

STARR: Yes. His lawyers said that they will appeal their client's life sentence, but he is almost certain to be sent to a supermax prison. And we can assume he will spend the rest of his life behind bars. Listeners may know that on two separate occasions, Guzman escaped from prison in Mexico. The first time he was shipped out as part of a - in a laundry cart. And the second time, he escaped in an underground tunnel that was underneath the bathroom in his cell.

SHAPIRO: And what does this mean for the Sinaloa Cartel that Guzman ran? I mean, what does it mean that he's going to spend life behind bars?

STARR: It doesn't look like it's had much impact at all. Ninety percent of cocaine smuggled into the United States enters from Mexico. There is no sign that has abated since Guzman was imprisoned here. He was extradited to the United States in late 2017, and there's no sign that that's had an impact on the flow of drugs into this country.

SHAPIRO: This trial has unfolded over so many months. I mean, as you said, it was 2017 that El Chapo was first brought to the U.S. I know you've been covering this story for a very long time. Can you tell us about a moment that stands out to you now that we are at what appears to be the end?

STARR: Gosh, there's so many. Something that was intriguing was learning about the communication system Guzman had set up, which was ultimately used against him because the federal authorities in the United States were able to tap it. It's been a long road, and it's striking that he's finally going to be held for the crimes that he has committed over such a long period of time.

SHAPIRO: That's reporter Alexandra Starr in New York. Thank you for joining us.

STARR: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.