The perfectly groomed, immaculately dressed Emma Coronel Aispuro became a familiar, and controversial, face at the trial of her husband, the notorious drug-lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, in the US.
For three months, the 29-year-old sat steadfastly watching the trial of the 61-year-old man she has been married to for 11 years. She listened to gruelling witness statements, including those from his multiple mistresses, detailing rape, murder and torture.
Yet her loyalty to him appeared unshaken.
“I don’t know my husband as the person they are trying to show him as,” Ms Coronel told The New York Times, “but rather I admire him as the human being that I met, and the one that I married.”
She called Guzmán – who was found guilty of distributing cocaine and heroin, possessing firearms and money laundering – “an excellent father, friend, brother, son, partner”.
Her husband is now highly likely to spend the rest of his life behind bars in a US high security prison, and some wonder how she has managed to escape criminal charges.
Testifying in court, a former cartel associate, Damaso Lopez, said Ms Coronel had helped Guzmán escape from Altiplano prison in 2015. Ms Coronel has previously denied any knowledge of her husband’s criminal activity.
During the trial she was twice found in possession of a banned mobile phone and found to have had illegal contact with Guzmán.
Drug lord meets beauty queen
Born in California while her mother was visiting relatives there, Ms Coronel is a US citizen but grew up in the Mexican town of Canelas, in Durango state.
Aged 17, she met Guzmán at a dance. A few months later, she entered a beauty pageant and won. Mexican press reported that Guzmán turned up at the event with hundreds of gunmen in tow, then announced he would marry her.
They wed on Ms Coronel’s 18th birthday. It was Guzmán’s third marriage.
“I would say what won me over was his way of talking, how he treated me, the way we began to get along – first as friends and from that came everything else,” she told the LA Times in 2016. “He tends to win over people by his manner of being, of acting, the way he treats people in general.”
Ms Coronel’s father, Inés Coronel Barreras, was later convicted for drug trafficking. He was a high-ranking member of the Sinaloa cartel, of which Guzmán was the leader. Her uncle, Ignacio “Nacho” Coronel, killed in 2010, was another key member of the gang.
When Guzmán was once again locked up following their marriage, Ms Coronel studied journalism in Culiácan, a background which seems to have given her a confidence in dealing with the press.
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But she has rarely given interviews. On the occasions she has, her husband has been portrayed as a hero. “He would be incapable of touching a woman with bad intentions, of trying to make her do something she didn’t want to do,” she told the LA Times.
She regularly used twitter to document her feelings about her husband. On 30 January 2017, around the time El Chapo was extradited to the USA, she tweeted in Spanish: “We both knew that to make us a reality we would have to pay a huge price: distance, time, challenges and sacrifices. It was worth it.”
But she has not tweeted since August 2017, and has since moved over to Instagram.
As the trial came to a close earlier this month, she posted a photo of the courthouse along with the caption in Spanish: “Everything that was discussed in the trial about Joaquín, good and bad, does not change in any way the way I think about him”.
How did she react to the trial?
Witnesses told the court that Guzmán drugged and raped girls as young as 13, buried an enemy alive and had a “murder room” installed in his house, complete with a drain to help clean up messy executions.
Ms Coronel supported her husband steadfastly through the trial, watching from the gallery almost every day and remaining relatively emotionless, even on hearing accounts from his mistresses.
During one of these testimonies, the married couple wore matching burgundy jackets to represent their solidarity.
When one of Guzmán’s mistresses was reduced to tears during her testimony, Ms Coronel is reported to have laughed from the gallery.
Guzmán waved at his wife whenever she entered the courtroom and, following the verdict, they gave each other a thumbs up.
Ms Coronel has twin daughters to raise but says she does not consider herself a single mother. “More so, a mother who in this moment doesn’t have the support of her husband, but trusts that the family will be well,” she told the New York Times.
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