MENU

Reason.com

Free Minds & Free Markets

Ross Ulbricht's Murder-for-Hire Charges Dropped by U.S. Attorney

While the Silk Road founder's reputation has already been sullied by the untried accusations, the feds give up on those charges after Supreme Court declines to hear Ulbricht's appeal on his original conviction and sentencing.

Having reported on Ross Ulbricht's prosecution since the beginning, I've found a startlingly large number of people who didn't follow the case closely believe his life sentence without parole for acts connected with launching the darkweb sales site Silk Road was because he was convicted for attempting to pay for the murder of people who'd stolen from or threatened him.

FreeRoss.orgFreeRoss.org

That's not true; such charges were no part of the crimes he was actually convicted for. The waters were muddied, almost certainly with cold deliberation, by the federal government because they had a separate indictment out of Maryland hanging over him for the past nearly five years that did include such accusations.

Last week Robert Hur, U.S. Attorney for the district of Maryland, filed a motion to have the indictment containing those charges dropped.

"Mr. Ulbricht's conviction and life sentence in the case handled by the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York have been affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and the Supreme Court has declined to hear the case," Hur said in a written statement. "We have dismissed the federal charges based on the same conduct pending against Mr. Ulbricht in Maryland, which allows us to direct our resources to other cases where justice has not yet been served."

Hur's statement contained an important misleading element. It isn't true that Ulbricht's serving his ridiculously punitive sentence based on the "same conduct" as in the dropped indictment from Maryland. That indictment includes a charge of "attempted witness murder" and many lurid details of the specifics of his alleged involvement in a case of (never actually committed) murder and torture. Those charges were no part of what Ulbricht was actually tried and sentenced for.

The real tragedy haunting this otherwise good news is the mere fact of the accusations, despite never being proven in court, played into the insanely and unprecedentedly draconian sentence Ulbricht received. The failed appeal to the Supreme Court wanted them to judge the propriety of sentencing based on unadjudicated accusations, but alas the Court didn't want to bother.

Some close to Ulbricht's defense, such as his mother Lyn Ulbricht, also wonder if the fact that the murder for hire accusations rely on the work of federal agents who were themselves charged for crimes committed in the course of the investigation into Silk Road might have played a role in the failure to ever go to trial on those accusations. The U.S. Attorney's office would not comment today on any possibility that might have played any role in their decision to drop that indictment.

It's good that the charges have been dropped, but the government's careless use of them as a media weapon to destroy Ulbricht's reputation and to encourage the sentencing judge to be far harsher than the crimes he was convicted on actually would warrant have alas already done their damage. It's hard not to think that was exactly why the indictment came down yet never went to court.

As Lyn Ulbricht said in a written statement, "We will be very relieved to have this indictment against Ross finally dismissed. It was the only indictment against him that included murder-for-hire, which made it especially harmful. By leaving it unprosecuted for almost five years― and Ross under a cloud of unproven allegations―the Maryland AUSA poisoned Ross's case. The Sixth Amendment right to a speedy, and hopefully fair, trial was written to protect the accused from this."

Now that Ulbricht has no chance of having his initial conviction and sentencing overturned or adjusted, it's likely the feds out of Maryland decided the indictment no longer was needed to make sure the government had some further means in their back pocket to punish Ulbricht for showing a safer, saner way around their insanely damaging drug war.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    What the shit? I thought that was why the harsh sentence. I guess count me in with the startling number of people. While I knew he was convicted of it, I supposed it some how factored in to the sentence.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Oh, okay, re-reading there I see that I did suppose correctly. Man, this case was all kinds of effed up.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    And the reasoning for it is also grim, as this is a sentence based entirely and scaring the government. By showing them a way they did not even know it was possible to thwart them. They're scared out of their mind by being shown that they didn't even know to control this.

  • Quixote||

    The author is critical of the fact that "the accusations, despite never being proven in court, played into the insanely and unprecedentedly draconian sentence Ulbricht received." But there's nothing wrong with this at all; in fact it's perfectly normal procedure in our nation's criminal courts, as the good Eugene Volokh could easily verify, were the question put to him. It is only regrettable that the similar procedure used in America's leading criminal "satire" case did not, in the end, lead to a jail sentence, although it did, fortunately, at least oblige the perpetrator in that matter to spend nine years litigating a host of issues clearly well chosen to influence the outcome of the case, such as the government's crafty suggestion that the criminal "parodies" were disseminated to almost thirty faculty members at NYU with the intent not only to denigrate the spotless reputation of a distinguished department chairman and Vatican envoy, but to make one thousand dollars in American currency. See the documentation at:

    https://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com

  • Sar32||

    A clemency petition for Ross was launched last week. Over 37,000 signatures already. Please sign and share. Let's get Ross some relief. From the investigation to the trial and sentencing, they really did him wrong. bit.ly/FreeRossPetition

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

  • Yellow Tony||

    Thanks!
    Also look at this dumb shit.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    That does nothing. Send money for him to get an attorney to file a writ of habeas corpus.

    Or send letters to Trump to ask for a pardon.

    Trump might like to stick it to Obama's DOJ getting this conviction.

  • Cyto||

    His appeals are all done. When the US Supreme court decided not to look into the case, that was the end of it. It is Presidential action or nothing, apparently.

  • PG23COLO||

    No, it is not all done. Ross still has legal options.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Heck, that's more than the number of scientists who signed the Petition Project urging the Senate to reject the Kyoto and Paris capitulations.

  • Yellow Tony||

    This dude should be pardoned for having his case be manipulated like this.

  • Hugh Akston||

    I would just like to say that the prosecution team and judges involved in Mr. Ulbrict's conviction and sentencing are fine human beings and upstanding public servants, and it would pain me greatly to hear that any one of them had fallen face first into a piece of landscaping equipment.

  • Rhywun||

    There's no special place in hell for them, either.

  • Grabthar's Hammer||

    The Bolgia of the False Counselors?

  • Grabthar's Hammer||

    How about falling down an elevator shaft....onto some bullets.

  • ||

    Oh for sure. They can all look their family in the eye and be proud of the what they've done. I for one can but applaud such fine people on the side of the people.

  • Yellow Tony||

  • Zeb||

    People who write letters to Zuckerberg or people whose kids got murdered?

    Or both. That seems most likely.

  • No Yards Penalty||

    Mr. Trump: Pardon Ross Ulbricht.

  • DenverJ||

    Yup last option. Fuck the nazgul for not taking this case.

  • Grabthar's Hammer||

    Nazgul? Nice touch. Please nominate the Witch- King of Angmar.
    It hurts when blowing out coffee through one's proboscis...

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    His best hope is if the judge or federal prosecutors in the case are ones that Trump wants to tweak.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Best hope? Probably.

    He can still file a writ of habeas corpus to have the courts reciew his case.

  • Eddy||

    Any prisoner can do that, the problem is whether they'll succeed.

  • Rhywun||

    It was all "Southern District of New York", right? I have a feeling none of that lot voted for Trump.

  • ||

    Hopefully someone can get the President's ear on this one.

    This is a monstrous travesty of injustice given what we know about how this case was handled.

    The sentence is beyond despicable.

  • Marty Feldman's Eyes||

    The failed appeal to the Supreme Court wanted them to judge the propriety of sentencing based on unadjudicated accusations,

    It's a crime that the Supreme Court declined to hear this case.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Brian, Ulbricht can file a writ of habeas corpus, to have the courts review his case.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Isn't witness murdering a government function?

  • onebornfree||

    REALITY CHECK!: "Because they are all ultimately funded via both direct and indirect theft [i.e.taxes], and counterfeiting [central bank monopolies], all governments are essentially, at their very cores, 100% corrupt criminal scams, which cannot be "reformed", "improved", or "limited" in scope, simply because of their innate criminal nature." http://onebornfree-mythbusters.blogspot.com/

    Regards, onebornfree

  • Eddy||

    Realistically, what we can strive for is to ask President Trump (or President Warren or whoever it ends up being) to reduce the sentence to something more reasonable, and more in line with the dropping of the murder charges.

  • ||

    I can see Trump doing something. Not Warren.

  • newlibertarian||

    Free William Leonard Pickard.

  • mondo_cane||

    The drug war or War Against Drugs is an indeed an insane legal response to a small group of accused.

    US prisons are packed beyond their population limits due to first-time offenders receiving draconian sentences.

    The US, the home of the brave and the land of the free, now has more of its citizens incarcerated than any nation in the world.

    We must ask ourselves if this is a sane application of the law.

  • WillPaine||

    Life sentence is more than a bit much, yes?..yes; free him soon; he only excersized (sp?) free internet, no?..If he opened the internet to pure capitalism; he is not to blame, yes? ...puullease; the authorities have indicted their own mirror in their own heads, of their own making; yes?..yes

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    ... justice has not yet been served

    I can see a group of lawyers sitting around a table or at a bar half in the bag when someone utters that phrase and they all burst into a round of laughter. That's going to be a punch line for a long, long time.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online