'El Chapo' lawyer dismisses U.S. officials' escape fears

 El Chapo lawyer dismisses U.S. officials escape fears

By Brendan Pierson

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A lawyer for Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman rejected prosecutors' claims that the Mexican drug lord may try to escape from the Manhattan jail where he awaits sentencing, and said he should be afforded regular exercise on the building's roof.

In a court filing on Sunday, lawyer Mariel Colon asked a Brooklyn federal judge to allow his client two hours a week of outdoor exercise, calling Guzman's solitary confinement, with no exposure to sunlight or fresh air, "unnatural and inhumane."

John Marzulli, a spokesman for the office of U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue, which prosecuted Guzman, declined to comment.

Colon had raised concerns about Guzman's conditions in Manhattan's Metropolitan Correctional Center in a May 11 letter to U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan.

Prosecutors responded on May 23 that the request should be denied because the only outdoor exercise area for high-risk inmates like Guzman was on the roof, where Guzman, who twice escaped from high security prisons in Mexico, could signal to accomplices in nearby buildings to plan a jailbreak.

They also cited an unsuccessful 1981 escape attempt at the same jail, in which a prisoner's accomplices hijacked a sightseeing helicopter, rammed it into a metal cage surrounding the roof recreation area and threw him a pistol.

Colon said Guzman was in no position to try a similar escape, because he is forbidden from communicating with anyone but his lawyers and has no "special vision" to see faraway rooftops.

She said Guzman's lack of outdoor exercise violated the prohibition against "cruel and unusual punishment" under the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution.

"The Government should not be allowed to claim that it is okay to violate a defendant's constitutional rights because of a design flaw in the building," Colon wrote.

Guzman, 61, was convicted on Feb. 12 of trafficking tons of cocaine, heroin and other drugs into the United States as leader of the Sinaloa Cartel.

Jurors heard testimony from more than 50 prosecution witnesses. This included accounts of Guzman's two earlier prison breaks, the first while hidden in a laundry cart and the second through an elaborate, mile-long tunnel dug into his cell.

He is scheduled to be sentenced on June 25, and faces mandatory life in prison.

(Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by James Dalgleish)

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Updated Date: Jun 04, 2019 00:12:02 IST