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Ross Ulbricht’s boyhood friends take the stand in Silk Road trial

Smoking with Silk Road Logo

The case is coming close to a conclusion.

After three weeks of listening to federal prosecutors make their case, Ross Ulbricht now has a chance to defend himself.

The U.S. government has accused Ulbricht of operating the online black market Silk Road, which became the largest marketplace to buy and sell illegal drugs on the Internet before the FBI shut it down in 2013. Ulbricht’s charges include computer crimes, drug trafficking, fraud, and more. He could spend the rest of his life in prison, if convicted.

Ulbricht’s defense began on Monday. Joshua Dratel, the lead defense attorney, called three character witnesses to kick off his case, each of whom have known Ulbricht personally for over 15 years.

Ulbricht himself announced he will not be testifying on his own behalf. However, depending on how the remaining testimony goes, Ulbricht has the right to reconsider that decision.

Karen Steib Arnold, a 72 year-old therapist who has lived in Austin, Texas, for most of her life, raised a family next to the Ulbrichts. She has two children the same age as the Ulbricht kids, and they grew up together.

“Ross’s family and our family are intertwined,” she testified. “We’re kind of a twin family.”

Arnold was asked by the defense what Ulbricht’s reputation was among the community.

“Everyone I know who knows Ross thinks of Ross as a peaceful and non-violent person,” she said. “He’s compassionate, gentle, and always has been.”

After less than ten minutes of testimony, Arnold stepped down. The next two witnesses were similarly speedy. 

Daniel Davis, Ulbricht’s childhood friend, said Ross is “one of the most peaceful people I know.” Davis testified that he has been close with Ulbricht since middle school.

The prosecution came back here with a striking attempt to undermine their friendship.

“He never told you about Silk Road, did he?” prosecutor Serrin Turner asked.

“No,” Davis answered.

“He never told you about selling illegal drugs? Did he tell you he lived under a fake name? Did he tell you he ordered nine fake IDs for himself?”

Davis could only say no again and again.

Thomas Haney, Ulbricht’s high school friend, took the stand next.

“Ross is extremely calm, kind, and a loving person,” Haney said. “It always impresses everyone who knows him.”

Three witnesses were on and off the stand within the span of a half hour. The defense promises three more witnesses, weather permitting, on Tuesday. At least one more will be a quick character witness and another, Bridget Prince, has been called an “investigator” though the details of her testimony have yet to be revealed.

Following the defense’s case, the trial will move to closing arguments and then jury deliberation.

The trial will resume Tuesday morning, as the defense calls its next witness.

Photo via Lindstedt Photography/Flickr (CC BY SA 2.0) | Remix by Fernando Alfonso III

Patrick Howell O'Neill

Patrick Howell O'Neill

Patrick Howell O'Neill is a notable cybersecurity reporter whose work has focused on the dark net, national security, and law enforcement. A former senior writer at the Daily Dot, O'Neill joined CyberScoop in October 2016. I am a cybersecurity journalist at CyberScoop. I cover the security industry, national security and law enforcement.