Martin Shkreli: lawyers struggle to find impartial jury for trial of ‘most hated man in America’

Pharmaceutical entrepreneur is facing charges of securities and wire fraud

Emily Shugerman
New York
Thursday 29 June 2017 00:57
Martin Shkreli leaving the United States Federal courthouse in Brooklyn
Martin Shkreli leaving the United States Federal courthouse in Brooklyn

The “most hated man in America” is having some trouble securing an impartial jury.

Lawyers for Martin Shkreli – the former pharmaceutical executive known for raising the price of a life-saving drug by more than 5,000 percent – dismissed almost 250 potential jurors in the first two days of jury selection.

"Just looking at him kind of twists my stomach, to be honest,” one potential juror said.

"In this particular case, the only thing I'd be impartial about is which prison he goes to," said another.

Yet another man indicated he would like to punch Mr Shkreli in the face.

All three were dismissed.

Mr Shkreli is facing charges of securities and wire fraud stemming from the time he spent at the drug company Retrophin Inc, and the hedge fund MSMB Capital Management. Prosecutors say he lied to investors about MSMB’s finances, and then paid them back with money he took from Retrophin. Mr Shkreli has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

In a high-profile case such as this one, Northeastern University law professor Daniel Medwed explained, finding a completely unbiased jury is nearly impossible.

“You’re not going to find a pool of people who don’t know about it,” Mr Medwed told The Independent. “The question is can you find people who can put side what they’ve heard and still be objective and impartial.”

Potential jurors at Mr Shkreli’s trial had a long list of reasons not to be impartial. While most of the complaints were unrelated to the current charges, they served served to significantly colour the candidates' view of the defendant.

Many candidates, for example, brought up the 34-year-old’s decision to raise the price of Daraprim – a drug used to treat deadly parasitic infections – from $13.50 to $750 per pill shortly after taking over Turing Pharmaceuticals.

Others took issue with Mr Shkreli’s unapologetic response to the incident.

“Our shareholders expect us to make as much money as possible,” Mr Shkreli told the audience at a health industry summit in 2015. At another conference, he said he “probably would've raised the price higher”.

The millionaire then appeared to inflame tensions by posting photos of $1,00-plus bottles of wine and helicopters rides over Manhattan on Twitter. He was kicked off of the social media platform earlier this year for harassing a female journalist.

Even Mr Shkreli’s defence attorney, Benjamin Brafman, was heard remarking that the defendant’s Twitter history is “just horrific".

By the third day of jury selection, after unsuccessfully petitioning the judge to start the entire selection process over, defence attorneys had chosen a pool of 60 candidates. They had questioned more than 300 people.

The candidates which will later be narrowed to 12 jurors and six alternates, for a trial that is expected to last six weeks.

Despite these difficulties, Mr Brafman is trying to keep the focus on the charges at hand.

“At trial, the defendant will show that Mr. Shkreli never, at any time, intended for a single investor to lose a dime,” he said. “Not in the short term; not in the long term; not ever”.

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