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Silk Road trial nears end as jury begins deliberating Ross Ulbricht’s fate

The trial is coming to a close.


Patrick Howell O'Neill

Internet Culture

Posted on Feb 3, 2015   Updated on May 29, 2021, 3:18 pm CDT

The trial of Ross Ulbricht, accused of being the mastermind behind the Silk Road black market, is coming to an end.

Four weeks after the trial began and over a year since Ulbricht was arrested in October 2013, the prosecution and defense made their closing arguments today in a Manhattan courtroom in front of a jury that has endured hellish winter New York weather to reach the court room every day.

“The Internet denies us the ability to say what is true and what is deception.”

Lyn and Kirk Ulbricht, the parents of the defendant, were understandably emotional today as the end of the trial drew nearer. Lyn vigorously nodded along as the defense made their arguments and shook her head at the prosecution’s claims.

Ulbricht is currently facing a range of charges for allegedly operating Silk Road, which became the Internet’s largest black market for illegal drugs before the Federal Bureau of Investigation shut it down as part of their sting against Ulbricht. If convicted, Ulbricht, 30, could spend the rest of his life in prison.

Prosecutor Serrin Turner made an explosive claim when he said that the defense’s case has no legal merit. It didn’t matter if Ross Ulbricht sold Silk Road in 2011 and was brought back as a “fall man” because, legally speaking, he’s guilty of the whole conspiracy if he’s guilty of a single minute of it.

Still, the prosecutors spend over two hours in total going over how the evidence linked directly to Ulbricht in painstaking detail.

When prosecutor Timothy Howard called the defense “absurd” and an “incredible fantasy,” at least a few of the jurors were visibly nodding along—a bad sign for the defense.

After an almost blindingly fast defense case, attorney Joshua Dratel sought to sew as much doubt as possible during his closing arguments. He cast suspicion on all of the electronic evidence presented by the prosecution, saying any of it could be “fabricated, distorted, moved, and manipulated.”

“The Internet is not what it seems,” he said. “The Internet denies us the ability to say what is true and what is deception.”

Instead, he urged jurors to consider Richard Bates, a college friend of Ulbricht’s who testified last week that Ulbricht confided to him and sought advice about Silk Road. Bates also said he was told, and believed, that Ulbricht sold the site in late 2011.

As the only witness who could draw a direct connection between Silk Road and Ulbricht in 2011, Bates and his testimony became a centerpiece of Dratel’s closing arguments, and he said it was worth much more than any electronic evidence could be. He challenged the jury to “use your common sense” on the thousands of pages of evidence recovered from Ulbricht’s laptop.

“The impenetrability of the computer screen has deprived us of certainty,” Dratel said.

Jury deliberations will begin Wednesday morning.

Image via Fernando Alfonso III

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*First Published: Feb 3, 2015, 7:39 pm CST