The sons of former drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman killed Mexican journalist Javier Valdez because he insisted on publishing an interview with a drug trafficker, who told of the murder in court Wednesday.
Damaso Lopez Nunez, known as “The Lawyer,” testified that the slain journalist — who specialized in drug trafficking reporting — “disobeyed the threatening orders of my compadre’s children and that’s why they killed him.”
The testimony came as part of Guzman’s trial in New York, where he faces trafficking, firearms and money laundering charges.
Valdez was an AFP stringer and co-founder of the weekly Riodoce de Sinaloa.
One of the most prominent chroniclers of the drug war, he was gunned down in May 2017. He was 50 years old.
Lopez worked for the ultra-violent Sinaloa cartel, and was convicted last year of trafficking by a federal court in Alexandria, Virginia. He had been arrested days before the journalist’s murder.
According to the US Department of Justice, Lopez was the deputy head of a Mexican maximum security prison in 2001 when he helped Guzman escape. He then joined the cartel as Guzman’s lieutenant.
He told the jury that another Mexican journalist had mentioned his name in connection with an operation against Guzman’s children — an accusation he said was “totally false.”
To disprove the information he decided to grant Valdez a telephone interview, which Guzman’s children discovered and were against.
They threatened Valdez and commanded him not to published it.
“But he, complying with his ethics, published it anyway,” Lopez said in court.
Daring escape plots
The witness, Guzman’s former right-hand man, denied in cross-examination that he had ordered the murder after the publication of a critical article about his son.
He also suggested Guzman, 61, was unaware of his sons’ involvement in the killing.
“The truth is that maybe my compadre didn’t know,” he said. “But now he knows.”
Valdez’s murder rocked Mexico, which is considered one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a journalist.
More than 100 reporters have been killed since 2000, with most of those crimes going unpunished.
Earlier in the day Lopez pointed to Guzman’s much younger wife Emma Coronel as playing a role in the cartel leader’s second spectacular escape from prison in 2015.
He said Coronel, 29, relayed several messages from Guzman to Lopez as the drug lord plotted his breakout, as the glamorous former beauty queen listened in the courtroom.
Guzman — who is accused of trafficking more than 155 tons of cocaine and other drugs to the United States — first was jailed in 1993 and spent eight years behind bars, where he met Lopez.
After his first escape in 2001 in a dirty laundry cart, he was again arrested in February 2014 at a hotel, where he was with Coronel and their twins, born in 2011.
Through Coronel he asked Lopez for help bribing prison guards, along with securing weapons and an armored truck.
In other meetings the pair met with Guzman’s eldest sons, who bought land close to the prison and begin constructing a tunnel measuring one mile (1.5 kilometers) into their father’s cell.
Lopez also spoke of Guzman’s request that the sons buy a GPS watch with exact coordinates.
The witness did not say who gave the device to Guzman, but Coronel had visited him at the prison.
‘I love him’
During the construction of the tunnel, the noise of drills against the jail’s concrete floor “caused discomfort” to other prisoners who complained of the din, according to Lopez’s account of what Guzman told him a week after the escape.
Months after his stunning jailbreak Guzman was arrested again in January 2016.
Immediately after, Coronel met with Lopez, saying her husband “was going to fight again to try to escape.”
But the drug baron was transferred to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, and a plan to bribe an official to return him to the first prison proved unsuccessful.
Guzman was then extradited in January 2017 to the United States, where he faces life imprisonment if found guilty.
Lopez, 52, is hoping a judge will reduce his sentence in exchange for his cooperation in the Chapo trial.
As he began his court testimony against Guzman, Lopez — the godfather of one of Guzman’s twin daughters — looked at his former boss and fist-bumped his chest.
Asked why he made the gesture, Lopez said, “Because I love him.”
“He and I have spent many years together, and a special affection for him has been born within me.”
Then why testify?
“I chose to think about my family,” Lopez said.