Nov. 14 (UPI) -- A federal judge on Wednesday instructed jurors in the trial of accused Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman to disregard some elements of the defense's opening statements, but refused to strike the remarks entirely.
Judge Brian Cogan told the jury not to put too much weight into statements made by Guzman's attorney, Jeffrey Lichtman, that his client was framed by bribed Mexican officials. Defense attorneys plan to argue that Guzman was not in fact the real leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, but instead took the fall for the real leader -- Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada.
Cogan dismissed a request by prosecutors to completely throw out the opening remarks. Prosecutors said the defense encouraged "the jury to decide the case based on something other than the elements of the charged crimes."
"Your opening statement handed out a promissory note that your case is not going to cash," Cogan said to the defense, adding that it would be "pretty radical" to strike the remarks entirely.
"What does it matter if the last two presidents of Mexico took a bribe if the bribes are not tied to the defendant here?" Cogan asked the attorneys.
Wednesday was Day 2 of Guzman's trial, which got off to a rocky start Tuesday when Cogan dismissed a juror who said she was experiencing anxiety over serving on the panel.
Jurors, whose identifies are being kept secret over concern for their safety, will be partially sequestered through the trial. U.S. marshals will escort them daily between their homes and the federal courthouse in Brooklyn.
Guzman faces 17 counts in six indictments for crimes across New York, New Jersey, Texas and elsewhere in the United States. The charges include drug trafficking, murder conspiracy and money laundering in his role as leader of the Sinaloa Cartel for 25 years.
Guzman pleaded not guilty to the charges in January 2017.
Prosecutors said Guzman amassed billions of dollars for smuggling cocaine from Colombia to the United States. Officials allege the Sinaloa Cartel under his leadership was responsible for 90 percent of cocaine and heroin in the United States and Europe.
If convicted, Guzman faces a minimum of life in prison and a possible forfeiture of some $14 billion.
Guzman escaped from Mexican prisons twice -- once in 2001 by hiding in a laundry bin and again in 2015 through a mile-long tunnel dug under the shower in his jail cell.
His 2015 escape launched a six-month manhunt that turned deadly when two Mexican marines were killed during patrolling activities in a location where they believed him to be hiding. Marines caught up with him in January 2016 in the coastal city of Los Mochis.