Biotech and Pharma

Martin Shkreli's own defense lawyer calls his Twitter history 'just horrific' during jury selection

Key Points
  • A federal judge is trying to seat 12 jurors and six alternates to Martin Shkreli's securities fraud trial.
  • He is accused of ripping off a drug company he ran to repay defrauded investors.
  • The judge rejected a bid for a mistrial that the defense sought by citing press coverage of negative comments on Shkreli.
Potential jurors don't hold back in the Martin Shkreli trial
Potential jurors don't hold back in the Martin Shkreli trial

Martin Shkreli's own criminal defense lawyer called the pharma bro's "Twitter history ... just horrific" during jury selection Tuesday for his trial on securities fraud charges.

That blunt comment from high-powered attorney Benjamin Brafman came when he argued that a potential juror who said he had seen "some of the defamation comments" Shkreli made on Twitter should be barred from the jury.

"Unfortunately, the Twitter history is just horrific," Brafman told Judge Kiyo Matsumoto in Brooklyn, New York, federal court, according to a pool press reporter listening in on the exchange.

"The Twitter is probably the most prejudicial part of Mr. Shrekli's [case]," Brafman said.

Shkreli, 34, had a long history of caustic, insulting comments on Twitter before he was banned by the social media service this year for harassing a female journalist.

Brafman succeeded in booting the Twitter-reading prospective juror, an employee of a media company, from the panel, despite the man saying he did not believe his knowledge of Shkreli's obnoxious tweets would bias him against the defendant..

The second day of jury selection in the securities fraud trial ended without any jurors being seated.

However, Matsumoto did manage to start questioning a remaining pool of several dozen prospective jurors about whether they knew any potential witnesses in the case, or about any of the drug companies, financial firms or law firms that might be mentioned during the trial.

They also were asked if they had experience with law enforcement and the court system that could bias their views toward Shkreli, and whether they had seen any stories about comments made by other prospective jurors who had negative opinions of him.

One woman was excused, albeit for a medical condition, after saying she had seen a headline referring to Shkreli as a "snake."

"I'm trying to erase that from my head," she said.

Jury selection will resume Wednesday. Most of the questioning of jurors was conducted at a so-called sidebar by the judge, with prosecutors and defense lawyers, as well as a pool reporting, listening in. The arrangement keeps other prospective jurors, Shkreli, and others in the courtroom from hearing the questions and answers.

Shkreli has pleaded not guilty to charges of securities fraud and conspiracy to commit securities and wire fraud. Prosecutors claim he ripped off his former drug company Retrophin for millions of dollars to repay investors defrauded at his hedge funds.

The charges are unrelated to either Shkreli's other drug company, Turing Pharmaceuticals, or to the public outrage that erupted after Turing raise the price of the antiparasite drug Daraprim from $13.50 to $750 per pill in 2015.

The witness list read aloud by Matsumoto included investors who had placed money with Shkreli, and with several members of Shkreli's family. Among the was his father, who sat in the courtroom gallery Tuesday.

Potential jurors also were asked if they had ever heard of Daraprim. None of the prospective jurors raised their hands.

'Pharma Bro' Martin Shkreli back in court
'Pharma Bro' Martin Shkreli back in court

Matsumoto had hoped to start the trial Monday with opening statements after picking a jury of 12, with six alternates. That didn't happen, since it took much longer than she expected to winnow a pool of almost 180 potential jurors down to just 47 people.

Excused were those who had negative opinions of Shkreli that rendered them ineligible to serve. Those were outnumbered by people who had family, work or medical issues that would make it difficult or impossible to serve as a juror in the case.

Mastumoto voiced a similar hope on Tuesday that the trial would start sometime during the day. But those hopes again were dashed by the slow pace of interviewing a new batch of would-be jurors out of the earshot of Shkreli..

One man, who previously said he had to ask his wife about rescheduling a vacation during the trial, later told Matsumoto he would have concerns because the trial is a "Brooklyn case," and because he lives near Sheepshead Bay, the neighborhood where Shkreli was raised..

"Are you concerned for your safety?" Matsumoto asked.

"I am," the man answered.

When the man was sent out of the sidebar huddle of the judge, prosecutors and defense lawyers Brafman said the idea that the man might be in fear of his safety from Shkreli or his cohorts was "absurd."

"I don't think he's afraid of my client," Brafman said. "I think he's afraid of his wife."

The hesitant husband was dismissed from the panel.

Another man booted said he was a pharmacist with three decades of experience.

"I do have knowledge of Turing Pharmaceuticals," the man said. "I have an understanding of drug pricing."

But, he added, "I feel I can be fine and impartial."

However, the pharmacist said he would use his knowledge of the drug business to evaluate evidence and testimony during trial. He also said he would share that knowledge with other jurors.

Matsumoto initially brushed aside Brafman's argument that the man should be dismissed as a juror. But the judge changed her mind, saying the man's intention to share his knowledge with fellow jurors was a problem.

Because Matsumoto is still trying to accumulate a sufficient surplus of qualified people to serve as jurors, prosecutors and defense lawyers have not yet been gotten to issue any of a set of challenges they may use, for just about any reason, to bar a prospective juror.

By the end of Tuesday, there were just 47 remaining in a pool of potential jurors. Fresh prospects will be interviewed Wednesday.

And the judge now hopes to begin the trial Thursday.

Earlier in the day, Matsumoto rejected a request by Brafman to declare a mistrial because of news stories about the negative opinions some prospective jurors had of former pharma CEO.

"I think it's impossible for jurors not to see them," Brafman said.

"I have someone who is facing 20 years in prison," the lawyer noted, underscoring the risk that Shkreli faces from having a jury infected by what they might see of media coverage of the case. Despite that, he also failed to convince Mastumoto to bar reporters from listening in on the questioning of jurors.

After the judge rebuffed Brafman's bids, one potential panelist told the judge, referring to Shkreli, "He just seems to care about himself."

"What I've heard is how he increased the price of drugs," the man said. He was excused from the panel.

One woman, who was kept as a potential juror, told Matsumoto she had never read anything about the case, and did not know who Shkreli was.

"Oh, very good," the judge said.

Shkreli's co-defendant Evan Greebel, who was a business lawyer for Retrophin, is scheduled to be tried separately later this year. Lawyers for Greebel, who also has pleaded not guilty, earlier this year called Shkreli a serial liar who is "guilty" of fraud.

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'Pharma Bro' defies advice to keep quiet  before fraud trial
'Pharma Bro' defies advice to keep quiet before fraud trial