United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Robert K. Hur has dropped the murder for hire charges against Ross Ulbricht, founder of the darknet marketplace Silk Road. In July, Hur filed a motion to have the charges dropped, and today it has finally happened. While this is excellent news for Ulbricht, it doesn’t necessarily translate into reducing the time he is serving, and likely will not give him another shot at an appeal, although some legal scholars have argued that it should.
Darknet news site DeepDotWeb reported that Hur sought “to dismiss with prejudice the indictment and superseding indictment” against Ulbricht to redirect resources to other cases that were unresolved. He ran Silk Road from 2011 to 2013 under the name Dread Pirate Roberts, or DPR. Ulbricht is serving five simultaneous sentences for charges that include drug trafficking, money laundering, and the catch-all charge of cyber-related crimes. His sentences were handed down in 2015.
Ulbricht was also ordered to pay $183 million, which is what the government estimated he made while running Silk Road. The portion of the trial that was sealed was the indictment for murder for hire, alleging that as DPR, Ulbricht paid $80,000 to an undercover cop posing as a hitman to kill an employee he believed had stolen Bitcoin from his wallet. For all parties involved, this is where the trial gets very messy according to Bitcoin News.
The charges in the sealed indictment were never proven, and ultimately, Ulbricht was never actually tried on the murder for hire charge. There simply was not enough evidence to proceed. Rather than dismissing the charges, they remained in case evidence ever was discovered to convict him on. The problem is that the sealed charges, particularly the murder for hire charge, were used when sentencing Ulbricht. After the fact, it was cited as “an unprecedented misjustice. “
Public Affairs Specialist Marcia Murphy of the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s office fielded calls from the press regarding the murder for hire charge being dropped. While she would not speculate what, if anything, this ultimately means for Ulbricht, she was able to answer some of the queries directed at her. She stated that there was “nothing to be found” by keeping the indictment open, which was incidentally filed by current United States Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
Despite the murder for hire indictment being sealed, at the time of the trial it was headline news and considered to be prejudicial at the least. He recently appealed his case to the Supreme Court which ended with them upholding the finding of the lower court. Although that was prior to the murder for hire charges being dropped, it is not thought that anyone will be willing to hear an appeal on sentencing based on that. Currently, Ulbricht’s best and possibly only hope to experience freedom again would be via a presidential pardon, which is as unlikely as him getting a new sentencing hearing.