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Friend of Silk Road creator details early days of the site

Joab Jackson | Jan. 23, 2015
Richard Bates testified that he helped Ross Ulbricht troubleshoot the site, which later became an online marketplace for illegal products.

Earlier Thursday, Dratel was reprimanded by District Judge Katherine Forrest when questioning the previous witness, FBI computer forensic scientist Thomas Kiernan, for going outside the acceptable scope of questions that can be asked in cross-examination.

Kiernan had testified about what he had found on Ulbricht's laptop at the time of Ulbricht's arrest. The laptop included a copy of the Silk Road website, including a number of PHP scripting files.

At one point, Dratel asked Kiernan about what a particular piece of PHP code did. At this point, Forrest immediately called a jury break, and sharply told Dratel that he could only question Kiernan about how he had retrieved the files and what he found on the files. He could not use Kiernan as his own computer expert, she said. Dratel argued that Kiernan was called as a witness because Kiernan had examined the contents of the machine, so asking about the source code of a Silk Road PHP file on that machine was fair game.

Texas resident Ulbricht was indicted last February, after being arrested in October 2013 in California. At the time of his arrest, Ulbricht was charged with narcotics conspiracy, engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise, conspiracy to commit computer hacking, and money laundering. Both the charges of narcotics and engaging in a criminal enterprise have maximum penalties of lifetime imprisonment.

The case is being tried at the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York.

 

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