Mi her­mano, ‘El Chapo’

Bal­ti­more lawyer is part of de­fense team for al­leged drug lord

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - By Tim Pru­dente

On Wed­nes­days Wil­liam Pur­pura boards a train in Bal­ti­more and rides al­most three hours north to a 12-story fortress bristling with ra­zor wire and known as the Guan­tanamo of New York.

In­side, he’s searched three times. Then he climbs to an iso­lated wing near the top and ar­rives at a soli­tary cell. Here sleeps a man con­sid­ered so dan­ger­ous Pur­pura’s not al­lowed to shake his hand.

Fall back

On Mon­day, the world will be watch­ing as the lawyer from Bal­ti­more stands up in a fed­eral court­room in Brook­lyn to rep­re­sent Joaquin Archivaldo Guz­man Loera, an in­fa­mous Mex­i­can more com­monly known as “El Chapo.” It sim­ply means “shorty.” He’s 5 feet 6. Hunted by U.S. agents for years, the See

61-year-old Guz­man faces a manda­tory sen­tence of life in prison if con­victed of in­ter­na­tional drug traf­fick­ing, gun charges and money laun­der­ing. He’s a bil­lion­aire al­leged to rule the pow­er­ful Si­naloa Car­tel and to have smug­gled hoards of co­caine by plane, truck, even sub­ma­rine; a folk hero cel­e­brated in bal­lads who es­caped prison on a mo­tor­bike in an un­der­ground tun­nel; a field gen­eral who prose­cu­tors say amassed an army of gun­men and as­sas­sins to pro­tect and grow his em­pire.

Guz­man has hired three trial lawyers, in­clud­ing Pur­pura, who has de­fended Bal­ti­more drug bosses, a crooked politi­cian from the Wash­ing­ton sub­urbs and one cor­rupt city cop from the Gun Trace Task Force. From his of­fice on East Mul­berry Street, the 66-year-old lawyer also de­voted decades to rep­re­sent­ing young men in grue­some death penalty cases. “The worst of the worst,” his son and law part­ner says.

At home in Lutherville-Ti­mo­nium, Pur­pura’s a reg­u­lar guy: golf, gym, yard work — some­one who thrills over a new leaf blower. He’s bald and trim, and a grand­fa­ther. His sons are grown: one, his part­ner; the other, a chef in Maui. His third wife, Nancy Pur­pura, is a Bal­ti­more County cir­cuit judge. They met when she, too, was among the ded­i­cated band of de­fense lawyers work­ing cap­i­tal mur­der tri­als. They call them “death cases.”

Now Wil­liam Pur­pura finds the end of his ca­reer has taken an un­ex­pected turn. He’s be­come a car­tel at­tor­ney, one im­mersed in the 330,000 pages of Guz­man’s case.

“It’s dif­fi­cult to get your arms around the enor­mity,” he says, still sound­ing sur­prised to be in­volved.

So how did he come to de­fend the world’s most no­to­ri­ous drug lord?




For at­tor­ney Wil­liam Pur­pura, the in­tegrity of a jus­tice sys­tem, like a so­ci­ety, rests in how it treats those who are most vul­ner­a­ble.


Fed­eral au­thor­i­ties es­cort Joaquin "El Chapo" Guz­man from a plane to a wait­ing car­a­van of SUVs at Long Is­land’s MacArthur Air­port in 2017.

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