Making a Murderer

The government used unproven, unprosecuted murder-for-hire allegations that never actually occurred to deny Ross bail, smear him in the media, bias his jurors, and justify the life sentence he ultimately received. On July 20, 2018, the District of Maryland dismissed with prejudice a five-year-old pending indictment against Ross.

“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.”
– Brian Doherty, Reason.[1]

Reason, July 25, 2018

New York Indictment: All Non-Violent Charges

“Of the six murder indictments trumpeted by the U.S. government in the days following Ross’s arrest, five have fallen off the table and the sixth sits untouched in a separate indictment (legalese for an unproven allegation) that was purposefully left out of the trial.”
– Patrick Howell O’Neill, Dailydot, October 22, 2014.[2]

AUSA Timothy Howard pointing at Ross
Illustration: Elizabeth Williams
When Ross was arrested on October 1, 2013, the government alleged that he planned murders, an accusation Ross denied. He was indicted in New York a few months later on February 4, 2014. The New York prosecutor, Serrin Turner, did not include charges for planning violence in the indictment and never brought them to trial.[3][4] All Ross’s charges at trial were non-violent.

Yet, Turner used the allegations at Ross’s bail hearing to claim that Ross was too dangerous to be granted bail. At trial, Judge Forrest permitted the prosecution to speak at length about these uncharged crimes, despite the defense’s protest that this would prejudice the jury. And at sentencing, the judge used the allegations to justify a double life sentence.

Maryland Indictment: Never Prosecuted and Dismissed

“By leaving it unprosecuted for almost five years―and Ross under a cloud of unproven allegations―the Maryland AUSA poisoned Ross’s case.”
– Lyn Ulbricht, Reason.[5]

For almost five years, the government held one unproven charge for planning violence, part of a pending indictment in Maryland. On July 20, 2018, the District of Maryland moved to dismiss the indictment “with prejudice,” meaning the charges can never be re-filed.[6][7]

The prosecution was never able to prove Ross authored any of the anonymous chats and text files the accusations relied on. In addition, Maryland is where rampant corruption occurred and the charges were based on evidence provided by corrupt agent Carl Mark Force—now in prison—who had admin access to Silk Road and admittedly took over accounts.[8] The indictment referenced the alleged planned “murder” of Curtis Green, a top-level Silk Road administrator. When the government filed a criminal complaint against Force in March 2015, it revealed that Force had “faked Green’s death,” and as with the other accusations, no one was actually killed.[9] Recently, Curtis Green himself publicly stated he doesn’t think Ross ordered a hit on anyone.[10]

Tweet by Curtis Green, alleged “victim” of murder-for-hire

“The murder-for-hire charge was finally dropped today. What a relief! It really hurt to have that hanging over me all these years, to be accused of being something I’m not. I just hope I won’t be seen in that light anymore.”
– Ross Ulbricht, Twitter.[11]

Allegations Used at Sentencing

“While the charge was never anything more than an unproven accusation, it seemed to be constantly given more weight than was justified.”
– Trevor Hill, BitsOnline.[12]

Despite admitting this, Turner spoke in detail about these allegations during his closing argument

Even though the allegations were not part of Ross’s charges at trial, Judge Forrest used them to justify her draconian sentence.

This reliance on uncharged crimes was addressed in Ross’s appeal and was also argued in an amicus brief by former Federal Judge Nancy Gertner, Drug Policy Alliance, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, and JustLeadership USA in support of Ross’s appeal.[13][14]

Whether Ross’s judge violated the Sixth Amendment when she based his sentence on uncharged conduct that a jury never ruled on was also a question in Ross’s petition to the Supreme Court, supported by three amicus briefs. The Court denied the petition.

“The sentence was based on judicial findings related to allegations of serious crimes that not only were never found by a jury but were not even among the charges leveled at trial.”
– National Lawyers Guild and seven other amici in support or Ross’s Supreme Court petition.[15]

References