On 29 May, 2015 Ross Ulbricht was handed a double life sentence without parole for creating and being the administrator of Silk Road, a website on the dark web which let its users buy and sell Class A drugs.
A year later, Ulbricht and his mother Lyn are working on an appeal for a retrial. They believe the life sentences should be dropped because, in part, two government agents who worked on the case against Silk Road, Carl Force and Shaun Bridges, were both found guilty of corruption, extortion and theft of bitcoins belonging to website.
Here, Lyn Ulbricht speaks to IBTimes UK about her hopes for a retrial, a lack of faith in the US legal system, and what Ulbricht has been doing over the past 12 months. Ulbricht's appeal for a retrial was filed on 12 January and the government has until 17 June to reply, then the defence can prepare its case.
IBTimes UK: Are you hopeful of his conviction being overturned because of the actions of Carl Force and Shaun Bridges, or is it more complex than that?
Lyn Ulbricht: Evidence revealing that corrupt government agents had unfettered, high level admin access to Silk Road; and the ability to change, remove and add material to the site; as well as steal over a million dollars, was suppressed and not allowed to be known by the jury.
The evidence was tainted and this was kept hidden until after the trial. This is in direct violation of the Brady Rule and against the law. This is a major issue addressed in the appeal, yet only one of several important challenges to the trial and investigation.
I am hopeful that the appellate court will rule a retrial based on the fact that this evidence was tainted and that the government suppressed that information at trial. This is important, not only for Ross but for the due process rights of all Americans.
Do you feel an example was made of Ross and he was a 'poster boy' for dark web convictions?
The government made it clear that he was. They said he was to be made an example because he had "developed a blueprint for a new way to use the internet". At sentencing, the judge said: "If you break the law this way, there will be very serious consequences."
It is demonstrated that the sentence was not really about drugs by the fact that the person convicted as the biggest drug dealer on Silk Road got a 10-year sentence; the person convicted as the biggest cocaine and heroin dealer on the site got five years; and the two corrupt agents received seven and six years. This makes it obvious that this is not about a product but rather about a platform that posed a threat because it relied on the anonymous use of bitcoin and tor, and was a marketplace beyond government control.
Have you lost faith in the US justice system?
After witnessing how shockingly unfair Ross' trial and sentencing were, I'm sad to say, yes, I have. I remain hopeful that Ross' appeal and other similar cases being heard by courts will resolve on the side of fair trials, privacy and individual liberty.
Do you feel Ross was naïve in his creation of Silk Road?
Many of us did naïve things when we were in our twenties and I think Ross was one of them when he created Silk Road. I'm sure he had no idea what it would become. How could he? He has matured a lot since then. I hope and pray that the courts will see that a life sentence for all non-violent offences is not necessary to chasten him and that they will allow Ross to return to society, older and wiser... It would be a horrible waste to have him rot in prison for his lifetime.
He was a passionate 26-year-old libertarian whose goal was to offer people the experience of free markets. He had even created a video game to that end before Silk Road, and lectured on the subject. Ross felt that what one puts in one's body is an individual choice and should not be regulated by a government. However, he also said at sentencing he never intended for anything he did to harm anyone.
What has Ross been doing while in prison?
Up until recently Ross was teaching General Educational Development classes to help fellow inmates earn their high school diplomas. Now, when he can, he is working on his appeal. Also he is studying physics and artificial intelligence, sketching and getting on the roof when he's allowed, where he can play racquetball and other sports... he calls frequently [and] we can visit him an hour a week... he is not allowed email access like other inmates.
What advice can you give to other parents in a situation like yours?
I try to take things one day at a time and not to lose hope, no matter how dark things look. I also try to focus on a bigger picture. For me, this is not only a fight for my son, but for the cause of freedom and our constitutional protections. I've seen firsthand how the government operates and I'm alarmed by it and how rapidly we are losing our liberty and privacy. My hope is that my little part is shining a light on this through Ross' case will make some difference.