Mi hermano, ‘El Chapo’
Baltimore lawyer is part of defense team for alleged drug lord
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.
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.