US judge allows pscyhologist to evaluate 'El Chapo'

New York (AFP) –


A US judge on Wednesday authorized a psychologist to examine Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, one of the world's most notorious criminals, after his lawyer complained that his mental state is deteriorating in a New York jail.

The 60-year-old kingpin, accused of running one of the world's biggest drug empires, has been held in solitary confinement since being extradited on January 19.

"His memory is failing," his lawyer Eduardo Balarezo told reporters after a court hearing. "I don't want it to get to the point where he's not competent or able to assist the defense in preparation for trial," he added.

Guzman -- who twice escaped from prison in Mexico -- is accused of running the Sinaloa cartel, one of the world's biggest drug empires.

He pleads not guilty to firearms, drug trafficking and conspiracy charges, and is scheduled to face trial next April. If convicted, he is likely to spend the rest of his life in a maximum security US prison.

On Wednesday, Guzman, wearing blue prison scrubs, smiled and waved to his beauty queen wife, Emma Coronel, 28, and their twin daughters in the gallery at the hearing in a Brooklyn court.

But while allowing the examination, federal Judge Brian Cogan said the psychologist could only assess Guzman through separation glass for security reasons -- the same restrictions imposed on his legal visits.

Balarezo, who only joined Guzman's defense this summer, indicated that he was "concerned" about the court's tight deadline to begin a speedy trial.

"I am sure you knew when you came into the case that the trial was going to be challenging," Cogan replied, signalling that he had no wish to delay the timetable.

Being given access to statements from cooperating witnesses only two weeks prior to their scheduled testimony in court, was not enough to review, investigate or prepare cross-examination, Balarezo told reporters after the hearing.

Speaking to AFP late Tuesday, Balarezo said his client had suffered "a marked deterioration in his mental state" due to the stringent isolation conditions.

He claimed Guzman was suffering from hallucinations, constant headaches, feels persecuted and is depressed, and has difficulty remembering people, places and events.

Guzman's lawyers have repeatedly complained about the conditions of his pre-trial detention at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, where US officials are determined to prevent him from staging any possible escape.

"If the psychologist evaluates him and then determines that there are competency issues then we'll deal with that," Balarezo told reporters.