The indictment hearing for the man accused of being the site's 'Dread Pirate Roberts' comes after more than 120 days in detention and interestingly, did not include any of the (up to) six alleged attempts to murder Silk Road cohorts by contract, none of which resulted in an actual death.
The hearing and not-guilty plea comes after Ulbricht was formally indicted last Tuesday on charges of drug trafficking, money laundering, computer hacking and of being the 'kingpin' on a drug trafficking enterprise.
The last charge, distinct from mere drug trafficking, is aimed at organized crime bosses and actually the most severe one Ulbricht faces. Anyone found guilty of that particular crime faces a minimum and mandatory 20 year prison sentence.
Defense strategy begins now
The main trial has not yet begun. With the indictment hearing done, It's now up to Ulbricht and his team to start building a defence. It won't be a small task: the prosecution is bound to throw all its resources into such a novel and high-profile case, and the Feds have reportedly collected 8-10 terabytes of evidence that includes the entirety of Silk Road's digital operation.
The defense team, including Ulbricht himself, will have a few months to review all that evidence. Ulbricht’s lawyer, Joshua Dratel, hinted the team may focus on the means used to gather the evidence and surveil Ulbricht's activities.
As reported in Forbes, this could show that some of the NSA's surveillance techniques were used to investigate the Silk Road case, bringing them and the question of their legal validity in such cases to the forefront.
Dratel also added on Tuesday that the indictment, together with the new 'kingpin' charge, "does not contain any new factual allegations."
Returning bitcoin treasure
A legal defense fund for Ulbricht on Crowdtilt has raised just over $10,000 (though its target is $500,000). He was denied a $1m bail proposal in November on the grounds he represented a serious flight risk.
Ulbricht has also formally claimed to have 29,000 BTC returned to him, part of the 170,000 BTC the Feds seized. Presumably this means he will claim the bitcoins had nothing to do with anything illegal and attempt to break the usual official allegations that bitcoin's popularity is thanks in part to its black market utility.
Another, UK-based, merchant who sold accessories on Silk Road also intends to claim 100 BTC in seized funds, saying his activities were not illegal.
Pirate treasure image via Shutterstock