Ross Ulbricht, the alleged owner and operator of Silk Road, is currently in two federal cases. In New York he is facing charges of narcotics conspiracy, money laundering and computer fraud and in Baltimore for a single murder-for-hire plot. Ulbricht will go on trial in New York on January 5, 2015, and while murder is not part of the charges he is facing, it is being used to discredit him and continues to creep into the case.
In response to a request from prosecutors, Judge Katherine Forrest has allowed prosecutors to keep a list of their witnesses secret until January 2nd, the Friday before the trial begins. Her ruling was made following the prosecutors’ request to redact certain names from the list in order to reduce the risk of “harm and intimidation”. Prosecutors cited the FBI’s account that Ulbricht paid for the murder of six people, one of those including Curtis Clark Green, who was an alleged Silk Road employee.
Ulbricht’s defense attorneys had objected to the prosecution’s request to keep the witness list secret, arguing that it would make preparing the defense more difficult. Forest explained her decision saying that she was, “in no position to find that [those murder-for-hire allegations] are baseless or that witnesses who are known to be preparing to testify against defendant would not be at risk of some retaliatory act.” Ulbricht is currently being jailed without email and has “extremely limited access to the outside world.”
Despite Ulbricht’s imprisonment, Forrest wrote in her response that Ulbricht might still reach contacts who could threaten witnesses. “While defendant has limited access to the outside world, that has been true of many defendants in many cases who have creatively managed around such limitations,” This isn’t the only request from the defense Forrest has struck down.
Accusations Continue to Cast a Shadow
Despite the fact that prosecutors haven’t charged Ulbricht with the murders, nor have they produced any evidence that anyone was killed, they continue to bring these charges up. In Ulbricht’s New York District case (14-cr-68-KBF, US vs. Ulbricht), the prosecutors are attempting to use accusations of six murder-for-hire plots in an effort to smear his reputation. Ulbricht has only been charged with attempted to pay for the killing of Curtis Clark Green in a separate case in Maryland.
“This is…an uncharged crime, which conveniently requires no proof but goes a long way to prejudice a jury (and the public)… Basically the prosecution wants [to] smear Ross’ reputation without having to prove anything.” – Blog post on FreeRoss.org, a website created and run by family and friends of Ulbricht.
Ulbricht’s lawyers and family have argued that the alleged killings without formal charges were intended to taint his reputation. When Ulbricht was first arrested in October 2013, prosecutors quickly jumped on the claims of violent acts, effetely eroding his reputation and support among Silk Road’s thousands of users. Silk Road’s community encouraged victimless crimes and advocated a nonviolent, free market philosophy.
The defense has sought to have the discussion of murder-for-hire allegations cases precluded from the trail. “The mere mention of the ‘murder for hire’ allegations would improperly introduce the toxic issue of violence and murder, generating [irremediable] prejudice to Mr. Ulbricht,” reads the defense’s latest motion filed earlier this week.
Judge Forrest has yet to rule on the motion to preclude these allegations. For the time being, these murder accusations will continue to erode Ulbricht’s reputation and hinder his defense attorneys from adequately preparing for the trial in January.
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