Baltimore attorney William Purpura will represent Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, who faces multiple indictments soon.

Two weeks ago a federal jury convicted Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman in a courtroom packed with New York attorneys, federal agents, international journalists and one defense lawyer from Mulberry Street in Baltimore.

As a member of Guzman’s three-man trial team, William Purpura spent months questioning cartel kingpins-turned-government cooperators — sometimes to amusing results.


“You were a handsome man,” he told one Colombian who had drastic plastic surgery while in hiding.

Objection! prosecutors said.

“All right, you weren’t a handsome man.”

With such exchanges, the veteran Baltimore lawyer brought his typical flair to a trial filled with sensational accounts of political bribery and gory murder.

Now Purpura’s back in Baltimore to reflect on the biggest case of his career and plan what comes next.

All eyes watching

Guzman’s trial drew attention from around the world and even a courtroom visit from a Netflix actor who portrayed “El Chapo.” Each day, Purpura walked through a crowd of journalists and onlookers to enter the federal courthouse in Brooklyn, N.Y. Some spectators, he observed, camped out overnight.

Facing life in prison and with his men turned government witnesses, alleged cartel king "El Chapo" has few allies. One is a lawyer from Mulberry Street in Baltimore.

“What surprised me was just the amount of media attention,” he said. “It was pretty much overwhelming: cameras thrust in our face and reporters following us in.”

Courthouse officials equipped an overflow room to broadcast the trial live for reporters. There were journalists from U.S., South American and European newspapers. Some observers were writing books about the case. Plenty of them wanted to speak to the trial lawyers defending Guzman.

“For a short period of time,” Purpura said, “you’re a rock star.”

Working hard

Purpura and his co-counsel, A. Eduardo Balarezo, a D.C. attorney, rented a carriage house in Brooklyn during the three-month trial. In the evenings, they reviewed thousands of pages of witness statements. The government had disclosed 15,000 pages the month before trial.

Preparations were endless for Guzman’s defense attorneys.

“I had a witness every single week,” Purpura said.

These witnesses were Guzman’s underlings and rivals — men with their own baggage and plenty of it. Purpura questioned them about their crimes to impugn their credibility before the jury.

The Colombian with plastic surgery, a former cocaine kingpin named Juan Carlos Ramirez Abadía, admitted to paying for killings and tracking the costs on a murder ledger. Others testified to bribing powerful government officials in Mexico.


Mexico's most notorious drug lord, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, was convicted of running an industrial-scale smuggling operation after a three-month trial.

“I’ve never seen a group like this,” Purpura said. “They were target-rich.”

Authorities maintained strict security during the trial, even shutting down the Brooklyn Bridge to shuttle Guzman from prison to court.

“We would receive some pretty wacky emails that we would forward to the marshals and they would investigate,” Purpura said. “It went from two different extremes: ‘How can you represent this person?’ to ‘You better represent them well.’ ”

What’s next?

The jury found Guzman guilty of international drug trafficking. He faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison.

“I'm not surprised by the verdict itself,” Purpura said. “Obviously, the jury deliberated for six and a half days on a one-defendant case, which speaks to me that there were some questions.”

Still, Guzman’s defense may not be over. Purpura says they’re asking for a new trial after reports that jurors had disregarded the judge’s order to refrain from reading accounts of the trial. Some accounts contained information forbidden to the jury.

The information may have tainted the jury’s decision, Purpura said.

“The jury had access to multiple media from newspapers to radio, TV to the Twitter accounts,” he said.

Guzman’s case marks the culmination of Purpura’s four-decade career. Now the lawyer says he’s considering retirement.

And yet, his phone may soon ring with new clients. Federal prosecutors have charged two of Guzman’s sons.