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Hello from Day 34 of El Chapo's trial.

Dámaso Lopez aka El Licenciado will be back on the witness stand this morning. My story @vicenews on his explosive testimony yesterday about Chapo's 2015 prison escape on a motorcycle through a mile-long tunnel.

news.vice.com/en_us/article/…
2015 wasn't El Chapo's first jailbreak. On cross, @balarezolaw asked about the 2001 escape in a laundry cart, which Dámaso was suspected of orchestrating. He put this image on a screen in the courtroom, drawing laughs from the jury and a swift objection from prosecutors.
Dámaso denied involvement in the 2001 escape.

The point of that ridiculous image was to raise questions about the plausibility of El Chapo being pushed out of prison in a laundry cart with no help.

We discuss an alternate theory in our podcast.

open.spotify.com/episode/5j4NRm…
The next witness will be a handwriting expert who will analyze several letters that Chapo sent to Dámaso from prison in 2015. Here's what those look like.

There's no great mystery about the author — they are signed "J.G.L." Joaquín Guzmán Loera.
The defense can't admit that Chapo wrote the letters because they are highly incriminating. Here are some translated excerpts.

Chapo references "kilos" and "tons", debt collection, and heavy weapons such RPG7s. He's not even attempting to use code.

documentcloud.org/documents/5692…
The letters vaguely mention Chapo's escape plan. Chapo tells Dámaso to contact his wife, Emma Coronel. He testified that she played a key role in the escape. As noted by @alanfeuer, that wasn't the first time she's been accused of crimes during the trial. nytimes.com/2019/01/23/nyr…
The letters also reveal the mundane side of the drug business, like Chapo telling Dámaso to turn on his crop duster so the engine doesn't fail.
One more notable excerpt: This is a reference to "narcomenudeo," or street-level drug dealing in Mexico. Dámaso was said to control drug sales in Mazatlán with Chapo's sons, earning 2 million pesos (~$105,000) per week.

The "widows" are actual widows — the wives of dead gunmen.
Heading up to the courtroom, stay tuned for updates from today…
Damaso Lopez is done testifying. He was asked by @balarezolaw whether he knew gunmen named El Koala and El Quilo, the suspected killers of Javier Valdez. Prosecutor objected, Damaso wasn't allowed to answer. The gunmen are said to have belonged to Damaso's faction of the cartel.
Prosecutors showed another excerpt from one of Chapo's letters to Dámaso. The message referenced "the gringos" and his 2014 capture. Chapo said: "They only told the president after I was arrested." Seems to confirm reports that EPN was kept out of the loop on the hunt for Chapo.
And let's not forget that Chapo allegedly paid a $100 million bribe to EPN… news.vice.com/en_us/article/…
Story just published @vicenews:

There was hope that El Chapo's trial might shed new light on the killing of legendary @Riodoce_mx journalist Javier Valdez.

Instead, it has only led to more questions.

news.vice.com/en_us/article/…
For more on the tragic story of Javier Valdez, listen to episode 7 of our podcast: open.spotify.com/episode/41nsmK…
Also read this excellent piece about Javier by @ioangrillo: esquire.com/news-politics/…
Statement from @pressfreedom Mexico rep @jahootsen on El Chapo's trial and the investigation into the killing of Javier Valdez

news.vice.com/en_us/article/…
Remarks this morning from @lopezobrador_ about El Chapo's trial and the killing of Javier Valdez. He asked for an update on the investigation and vowed to bring “the material and intellectual authors" of the crime to justice.

sdpnoticias.com/nacional/2019/…
The latest witness is Isaias Valdez Rios, aka Memín. He's a 39-year-old former Mexican army special forces (GAFE) member who worked as Chapo's bodyguard in the mountains from 2004-2007. He was later Chapo's personal assistant and a pilot for the cartel.
Memín described his first day on the job. He got a call from Chapo's head of security, a guy named Fantasma or Ghost. "He told me to get ready and time had come for me to go to the mountains." Memín knew he'd be working for the cartel, he didn't know he'd be guarding Chapo.
Memín was taken to a landing strip near Culiacán and flown into the mountains, to Chapo's hometown of La Tuna. He was greeted by 30 guys, all wearing tactical vests and carrying weapons — AK-47s, AR-15s, rocket launchers, and grenade launchers. Chapo's security team.
Memín was handed a tactical vest w/ magazines, a long gun, and a rocket launcher. It was his first shift. He'd spend the next month with El Chapo "every single day, all throughout the day." Then he got a month off in Culiacán, though he was still on call if the cartel needed him.
Memín said El Chapo stayed at a house called El Cielo. We could see this place from afar when we visited La Tuna for the podcast. It's on a ridge with commanding views of the village and the surrounding valley. It looked pretty spectacular. Listen: open.spotify.com/episode/5vIbwh…
While El Chapo slept in his house, Memín said the bodyguards "slept pretty much on the ground." They would dig holes to bivouac.

His first days on the job, Memín wasn't allowed to approach the boss. He was told: "Don't even get close because he doesn't trust you yet."
After about two weeks, Chapo summoned Memín to a meeting. The convo sounded friendly. He said Chapo addressed him as "chavalón" or dude. He asked about Memín's background in the special forces and warned him to be always on the lookout for enemies and the military.
Memín said he was never once in a firefight with soldiers during his years w/ Chapo in the Sierra. The soldiers were too busy raiding pot farms: "When we were up in the mountains, always, the government is already there fighting drug trafficking, meaning marijuana."
Memín said townspeople in the mountains would also use CB radios to warn the cartel when soldiers were approaching. "They would tell you constantly, the watchers, 'the military is on the way.'" Dámaso López would also pass along info to Chapo about specific military operations.
When the soldiers came through, Memín said, "we would just simply step aside so they could go by, then we would go back to that location."

When were in La Tuna, El Chapo's family members told us they were never bothered by military operations. open.spotify.com/episode/5vIbwh…
Memín said at first he was paid 2,000 pesos (~$100) per week. Later, his salary increased to 8,000 pesos (~$420) bi-weekly, then finally 14,000 pesos ($735).
Memín saw Chapo w/ custom weapons, including a short-barreled camo AR-15 and pistols w/ white and black panthers encrusted on the grips w/ diamonds. These, he noted, "weren't anything special." The panther gun is in Chapo's waistband here. Memín said he was present at this party.
Stay tuned for updates. Before the break, prosecutors said Memín would testify about "violent acts carried out by the defendant." This is likely a reference to the grisly murders of Zetas members by Chapo that we heard about before the trial. news.vice.com/en_us/article/…
Holy shit. We just heard the most gruesome and graphic testimony of the trial.

The witness described seeing Chapo personally torture and murder three people. One man was buried alive. Two were beaten, shot in the head, and burned to ashes.
During the break prior to this testimony, the jurors were smiling and joking with each other. Afterward, the mood was grim. They all had 1,000-yard stares.

Chapo sat staring at the witness. His wife Emma was expressionless.

You could hear a pin drop in the courtroom.
I'm going to recount the testimony, but be advised: The details are horrific.
The witness, Isaias Valdez Rios aka Memín, Chapo's former bodyguard, said the first killing happened in 2006 or 2007 in the state of Durango. Chapo received a phone call, then told his men that El Mayo was sending them a member of the Arellano-Felix cartel who had been captured.
Memín said the man had already been severely tortured: "He had been burned with an iron, an iron used to iron clothes. He had been burned all over his body." His shirt was melted into his flesh. He also had burns from a car lighter. The bottom of his feet had also been burned.
Memín: "Mr. Joaquín El Chapo Guzmán was a little upset. He said 'How can they send me this asshole like that? They might as well have killed him."

Chapo went off to bed. The man was blindfolded and locked away in a building for the next three days. Then the interrogation began.
Chapo questioned his captive about the Arellano-Felix cartel for around 20 minutes, asking for names, locations, and other info. Then Chapo went off to meet with some guests. Later, they moved to another hideout in the mountains of Durango and brought the captive with them.
Memín said the captive was put "inside like a henhouse-type structure" and left there for three days. "Then later on we told Mr. Joaquín he had this very bad odor because he was pretty much decomposing away."
When Chapo heard the captive was starting to smell, he ordered his men to go to a nearby graveyard and dig a hole. "I don't want him to hear you're excavating there," Chapo said. After the job was done, the captive was brought to the graveyard. Chapo came carrying a small pistol.
Memín: "Señor Joaquín had a small gun, it was like a .25 caliber. He grabbed it and he put a bullet in the chamber. He removed the safety and put it behind his back." They put the captive near the hole. He was blindfolded and tied up. He was shivering, though it wasn't cold.
Memín said Chapo started to interrogate the man again. "In one of those times he was responding he grabbed his gun and shot him. 'You motherfucker,' he said.' Then he ordered us to remove the handcuffs."
Memín said that after Chapo shot the man, they dumped his body in the graveyard: "Still the person was sort of gasping for air. That's how we dumped him in the hole and buried him." We never heard the victim's name.
The second round of killings also occurred in Durango in 2006 or 2007. Again, Memín said it began with Chapo receiving a phone call: "He said, 'Dudes, they are sending us a gift. Licenciado's people grabbed some Zetas close to El Dorado," a town in Sinaloa.
When the Zetas arrived, Chapo ordered them put inside a barn. Memín: "Señor Joaquín said 'You can start heating them up,' in the sense that we could start beating them so they would reveal information." Later, Chapo ordered his men to find a secluded place in the mountains.
The Zetas were brought to a spot in the woods about half a kilometer away from where Chapo and his men were camped. "Mr. Joaquín requested like a big branch, like a long stick." Asked why, Memín chuckled: "Obviously he didn't request that to be affectionate with them."
Memín said Chapo beat the Zetas with a tree branch for "quite a long time," maybe two or three hours: "The people there were pretty much like ragged dolls. The bones in their bodies were fractured. They couldn't move."
Memín explained that it was personal with Chapo and the Zetas. There was a war between the cartels. Zetas were not typically from Sinaloa, but these guys were local: "He was telling them, 'You motherfuckers. How is possible you're working for these people? You're betraying us."
After the beating, Chapo ordered his men to dig a large hole, fill it with wood, and start a bonfire. They strapped the Zetas to the back of two ATVs, which Chapo and his head sicario, El Bravo, drove up to the fire pit.
Chapo got off the ATV and chambered a bullet in his rifle: "The Zetas were seeing the bonfire in their faces, they were scared. Mr. Joaquín didn't say much. He just came up and put the rifle to the head and said 'fuck your mother' and shot him." Then he did the same to the other.
Chapo ordered his men to put the bodies of Zetas into the bonfire: "He said, 'I don't want any bones to remain.'" Memín said his men stayed up all night feeding the fire "until practically it was daylight." By morning, there was nothing left of the Zetas but ash.
Trial just wrapped for the day. Judge Cogan told the jury they'll be done hearing evidence by the end of next week. That means we can expect closing arguments and a verdict in the first week of February.
We still don't know whether El Chapo will take the stand, but the fact that testimony is expected to conclude by the end of next week suggests he will not. Still possible, just looks unlikely at this point.
This is Isaias Valdez Rios aka Memín, the ex-bodyguard and pilot who testified today about seeing Chapo personally commit torture and murder.
This is the diamond-encrusted grip of a pistol that belonged to El Chapo. He also had another one with a white panther.

Memín testified that Chapo typically received weapons like this as gifts: "I never heard Mr. Guzmán say, 'Hey, can you get me a gold-handled pistol.'"
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