An attorney for accused and/or alleged Silk Road boss Ross Ulbricht complained that his defense of his client was "completely eviscerated" on Tuesday after the judge in Ulbricht's ongoing trial for drugs and conspiracy offenses negated much of the evidence presented last week.
On Friday, attorney Joshua Dratel stunned a Manhattan courtroom by arguing that the actual mastermind behind the Silk Road online drugs souk was not Ulbricht at all, but Mark Karpeles, former CEO of the failed Bitcoin exchange MtGox.
The evidence Dratel presented in support of that argument came in the form of testimony by one Jared Der-Yeghiayan, a Special Agent for the US Department of Homeland Security who had been involved in investigating Silk Road.
In his testimony before the court, Der-Yeghiayan acknowledged that early in his investigation he had developed a convincing theory that Karpeles was the operator of Silk Road, which Dratel suggested was evidence that Karpeles had framed Ulbricht.
But on Tuesday, US District Judge Katherine Forrest declared much of Der-Yeghiayan's testimony to be inadmissible after the fact and ruled that Dratel would not be allowed to ask similar questions of other government witnesses, because they were "irrelevant" to the trial.
The ruling came in response to a motion [PDF] filed by prosecutors on Monday arguing that Der-Yeghiayan's responses to Dratel's questions amounted to "hearsay" or were based on his "past beliefs," rather than his own empirical knowledge.
"Indeed, an agent's beliefs often rest on hearsay, hunches, or other information that is not in itself admissible," government attorneys wrote. "The defense cannot circumvent the evidentiary rules prohibiting the admission of such information by having the agent testify about what he believed at various points during the investigation or why he believed it."
Judge Forrest concurred on Tuesday, and following her ruling, Dratel's continuing cross-examination of Der-Yeghiayan was interrupted by repeated objections from prosecutors.
It was a tough turn of events for UIbricht's attorneys, who earlier had tried unsuccessfully to have most if not all of the government's evidence excluded.
At one point, the Wall Street Journal reports, a flustered Dratel told the judge that "I'm not sure I can proceed" with questioning Der-Yeghiayan given the new restrictions on testimony and that it was "unfair" for prosecutors to be allowed to "completely eviscerate" his line of defense by raising so many objections.
Judge Forrest was unsympathetic to these complaints, however, saying that Dratel would be limited to asking witnesses questions about their firsthand knowledge, rather than what they "believed" or "suspected."
The government is expected to call its second witness on Wednesday. ®