Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman will be tried in US in April 2018

FILE - In this Jan. 19, 2017 file photo provided by U.S. law enforcement, authorities escort Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, center, from a plane to a waiting caravan of SUVs at Long Island MacArthur Airport, in Ronkonkoma, N.Y. U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan ruled Thursday, May 4, 2017, that Guzman needs to stay in solitary confinement at a New York City lockup to keep him from trying to control his drug-trafficking empire from behind bars. Cogan rejected a request by Guzman’s defense team to order him released from an ultrahigh-security wing of a jail in lower Manhattan and be allowed in the general inmate population and receive visitors. (U.S. law enforcement via AP, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — A U.S. judge on Friday set an April 2018 trial date for Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman on charges he oversaw a multibillion-dollar international drug trafficking operation responsible for murders and kidnappings.

Guzman answered the judge’s questions through an interpreter. He spent half the hearing looking across the courtroom at his wife, who smiled and waved to him as she entered.

Defense lawyers complained that glass separated them from the defendant during their meetings, hindering communications. The judge said the matter will be investigated.

The 59-year-old defendant famous for twice escaping from prison in Mexico lost his bid Thursday to relax the terms of his confinement at a lower Manhattan lockup when U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan concluded that solitary confinement was appropriate.

Cogan said the U.S. government had good justifications for applying tough jail conditions on a man who escaped twice, including once through a milelong tunnel stretching from the shower in his cell. But Cogan relaxed the restrictions known as Special Administrative Measures enough for Guzman to communicate with his wife through written questions and answers.

His lawyers said in a statement that it was “devastating” for Guzman and his wife that they will not be allowed jail visits.

Guzman was brought to the U.S. in January to face charges that he oversaw a multibillion-dollar international drug trafficking operation. He has pleaded not guilty.

He has remained in a 20-by-12-foot (6-by-3.7-meter) cell for 23 hours a day in a wing of the Metropolitan Correctional Center that often is used to house high-risk inmates including terrorists.

The U.S. government has said severe restrictions are necessary for Guzman in part because he used coded messages, bribes and other means to continue operating his drug empire from behind bars and arrange escapes.

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