Sam Bankman-Fried on Verge of Tears as His Lawyer Concludes Defense

The alleged fraudster and ex-FTX CEO acted "in good faith," Bankman-Fried's attorney said in an emotional closing argument.

AccessTimeIconNov 1, 2023 at 11:01 p.m. UTC
Updated Nov 2, 2023 at 4:33 p.m. UTC
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NEW YORK — Sam Bankman-Fried appeared to be on the verge of tears late Wednesday at the end of his attorney Mark S. Cohen's closing remarks, the former FTX CEO's last, best hope for acquittal, or at least a hung jury.

Bankman-Fried spent these final few moments of his team's closing arguments almost ramrod-still, without his usual jitters. He stared at his parents, blinking heavily and drinking big gulps of water.

"Sam did his best to start and operate two multi-billion-dollar businesses in a new market," Cohen said at the conclusion of his emotionally charged remarks to jurors.

"Some decisions turned out well," he added. "Some decisions turned out poorly."

At the end of the proceeding, which stretched past 6 p.m. in the Manhattan courtroom, he offered an appeal for the jury to find Bankman-Fried acted in "good faith" throughout his time running FTX and Alameda Research, his crypto trading firm, and therefore could not be convicted of fraud.

Cohen offered what he called an "alternative history" than the prosecutors regarding the events and decisions that ended in FTX’s bankruptcy last November, as well as the revelation that Alameda had spent billions of dollars of the exchange’s customer funds.

In Cohen's telling, it was "real-world miscommunications," "mistakes" and "delays" that imperiled FTX and the rest of Bankman-Fried's crypto empire – not fraud by his client.

Sitting a few rows back in the gallery, Joseph Bankman and Barbara Fried appeared similarly taken by the proceedings. As Bankman-Fried walked out of the courtroom on Wednesday evening, his mother – sullen and steely eyed throughout the trial – uncrossed her crossed arms, palmed her heart and then sunk her face into her hands.

Emotional closing

Cohen clutched the lectern as he addressed the jury in a soft, nearly pleading voice. He relied on submissive language (literally: "I submit to you" x, y and z), underscoring the power these 12 New Yorkers will soon hold over his client, who if convicted could face what amounts to a life sentence.

The former federal prosecutor's closing style differed in every way from that of his opposing counterpart, Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas Roos. Roos, physically the largest member of the government's team, used his imposing frame to telegraph the gravity of the criminal fraud allegations.

When he pointed at the defendant he wagged his entire arm with each part of the name: Sam. Bankman. Fried. It was among the most vivid moments of this five-week trial, alongside Caroline Ellison’s tears on the witness stand – and Sam's display of emotion at the close.

Rhetorically, Roos leaned in, too. He resurrected a passive-voice turn of phrase his team had invoked repeatedly in opening arguments – FTX's collapse meant "billions of dollars from thousands of people, gone" – and reversed it, making it active: "thousands of people lost billions of dollars." The changeup raised the stakes just as the trial entered its final phase.

The jury listened most attentively to Roos, who, going first in the day (and acting with what Cohen described, not in a complimentary way, as "cinematic" flair) had the performative upper hand. By the afternoon and Cohen’s testimony they started to fade, yawning and glancing at the clock at the back of the gallery.

Judge Lewis Kaplan’s decision to extend an already long and sometimes plodding day only compounded their tiredness. Even so, a handful of jurors remained alert and engaged for Cohen, taking notes throughout.

It takes only one to cause a hung jury.

Edited by Nick Baker and Marc Hochstein.

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Danny Nelson

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Sam Kessler

Sam is CoinDesk's deputy managing editor for tech and protocols. He reports on decentralized technology, infrastructure and governance. He owns ETH and BTC.


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