Jury fails to reach verdict in trial of former president of Honduras for drug trafficking

NEW YORK – Drug trafficker as the New York prosecutor maintains or scourge of drug trafficking as the former president Honduran Juan Orlando Hernández? He jury Suspense remains after the first day of deliberations concluded without a ruling, which must be unanimous.

Hernández, who according to the New York prosecutor’s office created a “narco-state” during his eight years of presidency (2014-2022), is accused of conspiring to traffic drugs and weapons and of possessing weapons, crimes for which, if found guilty, he could face the rest of his days in prison, like his brother Tony, sentenced to life in prison in 2021.

The 12 members of the jury, who requested passages of witness transcripts in the afternoon, as well as the former president’s testimony, concluded their first day of deliberation on Thursday without reaching a verdict and are scheduled to continue their task on Friday. Your decision must be unanimous.

Its function is to define whether he is innocent or guilty of the charges against him. The eventual sentence will be imposed by the judge.

Surrounded by the three generals (one in reserve) who came to testify on his behalf, the accused with a well-groomed beard and tired face approached to greet and chat briefly with two relatives, one of them a sister-in-law who did not want to reveal her name, arrival of Honduras.

Neither his wife nor his children have received a visa to go to the judgment.

Altar in front of the court

In front of the court, a group of protesters erected an altar with photos of people murdered during what they call the president’s “narco-dictatorship,” while another group, with a megaphone in hand, was listing names and a chorus shouted: “Here is your narco president.” .

The courtroom was packed with Hondurans who came, many from Honduras, to witness this historic trial.

The jury has to rule on a questionnaire on the three charges. Whether they have to answer the rest will depend on the answer to the first question – whether he is innocent or guilty of conspiring to traffic drugs.

For prosecutor Jacob H. Gutwillig, there is no doubt that the former president “is a drug trafficker” and “is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”

According to the prosecution, he received millions of dollars in bribes from drug lords, including the Sinaloa cartel of Joaquín “Chapo” Guzmán – sentenced to life in prison in the United States -, in exchange for protecting them from extradition and offering security with help from the military, police and justice to their valuable merchandise from Colombia with final destination to the US market.

During his presidency, Honduras became a “super highway” for Colombian cocaine, according to the prosecutor’s office, which claims that between 2004 and 2022 the network that Hernández allegedly supported introduced more than 500 tons of cocaine into the United States.

Reasonable doubt

The defense has attempted to undermine the statements of witnesses – most of them drug traffickers who seek to reduce their sentences with their cooperation – and the lack of evidence that supports their accusations.

Although with the accusations of conspiracy, the jury’s doubt beyond reason that two or more people agreed to send drugs to the United States is enough to convict him.

“The only evidence we have is the word of a drug trafficker to another drug trafficker,” said defense lawyer Renato Stabile, who reminded the jury that the former president enacted laws against money laundering, the seizure of criminal assets and authorized the first extraditions of drug traffickers to the United States.

The former president had two faces: a public one that pretended to fight drug trafficking, but another that privately protected his own, prosecutor Gutwillig had said shortly before.

The next?

Hernández, who feels like a “victim of revenge,” called the witnesses “professional liars.” “Everyone has a lot of reasons to lie,” he said on the stand, even though he was not required to testify.

“The only one who tells the truth is you?” prosecutor Kyle Wirshba snapped after a tough interrogation in which he put him on the ropes when he asked him why he protected his brother Tony, accused of drug trafficking and who was not arrested. until 2018 at the Miami airport.

Throughout the trial, the dozen witnesses for the prosecution revealed the close links between drug trafficking and politics in the Central American country. Hernández’s predecessor, Porfirio Lobo, was also accused by his son, convicted of drug trafficking, of having received money from organized crime. Will it be next?

FOUNTAIN: With information from AFP