Sam Bankman-Fried Trial: Defense’s Lukewarm Examination Fails To Exonerate FTX Founder

Sam Bankman-Fried (SBF) and his lawyers do not seem to have made any headways in their defense, as the second week of the defendant’s trial ends on October 13. The highlight of how their case has gone so far was again on display when Mark Cohen stepped forward to cross-examine Caroline Ellison on October 12. 

FTX Founder’s Lawyers Fail To Establish Anything On Cross-Examination

During cross-examination, the first thing Cohen did was ask Ellison if SBF was correct about some of the things he had told her in a bid to establish that Sam Bankman-Fried wasn’t wrong about some of the decisions he made. However, the prosecution rebutted on the grounds of relevance. Ellison still proceeded to answer the question but in a non-definite way. 

After that, Cohen seemed to lose the plot as he began asking questions irrelevant to the case or failing to prove Sam Bankman-Fried’s innocence. Some of the questions he asked related to how Sam Bankman-Fried and Ellison reacted to stress differently, and another related to their different styles. 

On one occasion, Cohen put a question forward to Ellison as to whether or not SBF was willing to take on more business risk than her, which she answered in the affirmative. Although it is unclear what the defense was trying to establish with that question, such a line of questioning could be counterproductive.

At some point, it looked like the defense had run out of ideas as Sam Bankman-Fried’s lawyer began to ask questions that had already been elucidated during direct examination. Following this, AUSA Sassoon hinted to the court about this fact, to which Judge Kaplan agreed and asked Cohen to move to something else. 

Judge Kaplan also seemed tired of the constant sidebars as he asked the defense to try reducing them. Cohen had asked for that several times when he tried to convince the judge why a question should be allowed. 

Sam Bankman-Fried Defense Could Have Adopted A Different Approach

Noteworthily, Judge Kaplan made an interesting remark (before the jury returned after the break) when he told Cohen that he had never seen the cross of a cooperator done like this. Although one can’t assume what context the judge meant this, there are some plausible interpretations. 

One of them is that the defense cross-examined Ellison like she was the one standing trial, and they were trying to prove her guilt, which isn’t the case. Instead, she was taking the stand as a witness because she had already pled guilty to fraud charges against her. 

With this in mind, the defense should have focused on discrediting her testimony and proving that Sam Bankman-Fried had no control over Alameda when Ellison was the CEO. 

This was something that several legal experts had warned about while highlighting the importance of Ellison’s testimony to the case. In hindsight, SBF’s lawyers would probably feel they could have done more to establish the FTX founder’s innocence from Ellison’s testimony. 

Sam Bankman-Fried’s trial continues on October 13 with the direct examination of BlockFi’s co-founder, Zac Prince.

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