Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht brought a last ditch appeal of his life sentence to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday, where a three-judge panel seemed to give the dark web tycoon a sympathetic hearing.
Ulbricht was identified by law enforcement as Dread Pirate Roberts, the elusive programmer behind the dark web’s largest illicit bazaar, Silk Road, and charged in connection with his operation of the site. Shortly before his trial, the U.S. Department of Justice disclosed that two federal agents connected to the years-long investigation had stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of bitcoin, the medium of exchange used on the website. Silk Road was the largest dark web peer-to-peer platform for the sale of drugs and other illegal paraphernalia.
He was convicted of money laundering, computer hacking, and conspiracy to traffic narcotics. Though he was not convicted of procuring murder — the charge was removed from the indictment by prosecutors — testimonials from family members of several decedents killed by drugs purchased on Silk Road were included in the sentencing phase of the trial. Those testimonials, called aggravating factors, significantly informed the district court’s decision to sentence Ulbricht to a term of life. None of the crimes he was convicted of carry a life sentence. (RELATED: Feds Arrest Alleged Cocaine Seller After Discovering His Ridiculous Password)
Though his lawyers hoped to argue that the district court erred in forbidding any reference to the corrupt federal agents — now in prison — the three-judge panel seemed particularly concerned by the severity of his sentence and the introduction of the inflammatory testimonials.
“Does this [testimony] create an enormous emotional overload for something that’s effectively present in every heroin case?” Judge Gerald Lynch asked. “Why does this guy get a life sentence?”
That testimony “put an extraordinary thumb on the scale that shouldn’t be there,” he said.
The panel appeared less swayed by the matter of the corrupt agents, as their criminal activity in no way absolved Ulbricht of his criminal activity.
The appeal is likely his last chance to ever leave prison a free man. Should he lose at the 2nd Circuit, his only other option would be a Hail Mary appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
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