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Federal judge seeks help with research before Silk Road sentencing

Ross William Ulbricht, who was known by his

Ross William Ulbricht, who was known by his digital handle, Dread Pirate Roberts, was indicted in Manhattan Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, on charges he was the mastermind behind a secret website that brokered more than $1 billion in transactions for illegal drugs and services. This is an undated photo of Ulbricht. Credit: AP

With the defense and prosecution at odds over whether the black market drug website Silk Road killed people or saved lives, the federal judge who will sentence the man convicted of creating it wants help with social science research on "cryptomarkets."

U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest, who will sentence Ross Ulbricht on May 29, said in an order Tuesday that she needs quantities, prices and other data for 10 different illicit drugs listed on the site, as well as aid in finding scholarly articles on Silk Road's impact on the drug market.

Prosecutors plan to offer evidence about six people who allegedly died from drugs purchased on Silk Road at the sentencing of Ulbricht, 30, who faces a mandatory minimum of 20 years and up to life in prison.

But Ulbricht's defense team, in filings last week, argued the government can't show that Silk Road was the cause of those deaths, and that in fact Silk Road reduced violence in the drug trade by relocating it in cyberspace and making buyers and sellers anonymous.

"The Silk Road website in many respects represented a far safer environment for drug purchasing and even use, and ... a more evolved, better-informed drug-using community than any previously observed in the 'street,'" defense lawyer Josh Dratel wrote.

That's where the cryptomarket research comes in.

Forrest said she was reviewing research cited by the defense, but needed help locating two articles -- "Drugs on the Dark Net: How Cryptomarkets are Transforming the Global Trade in Illicit Drugs," and "Lost on the Silk Road: Online Drug Distribution and the Cryptomarket."

Silk Road used digital bitcoin currency and operated on a hidden part of the Internet to make transactions untraceable. The government says it did $1 billion in sales of drugs and other contraband from 2011 to 2013.

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