Martin Shkreli is "the face of corporate greed in America" according to prospective jurors in his fraud trial.
Attorneys breezed through a panel of 130 jurors called to Brooklyn Federal Court on Monday, and Judge Kiyo Matsumoto had to call in 50 more jurors to round out the pool. More than half of the potential jurors were dismissed Monday morning after citing conflicts of interest, or conflicts with the expected four to six weeks the trial will last.
Shkreli, best known for inflating the price of life-saving pharmaceuticals, is charged by federal prosecutors with securities fraud. Prosecutors say he lied to investors in one company and then ripped off his other company to pay them back. Shkreli’s defense team says he paid them back.
While the judge told jurors that news stories about his pharmaceutical meddling were irrelevant to the case before them, many jurors found it hard to put it out of their minds.
“I think [Shkreli’s] a very evil man,” the first prospective juror told Judge Matsumoto.
Another juror told the judge that both of his parents are on Daraprim, the drug whose price Shkreli is best known for raising.
“I also have several friends with HIV and who have AIDS, who can't afford their drugs," he added. "Unfortunately, it's in the back of my mind the whole time.”
A third simply told Matsumoto he recognized the defendant as "the price gouger of drugs."
“I know he’s the most hated man in America, in my opinion," another woman said. “My father’s cancer medication costs $1,000 a month. I don’t think I can be fair and impartial.”
A federal prosecutor disagreed that Shkreli’s price-gouging is entirely irrelevant.
“If the defendant takes the stand and testifies, it is possible some of this information opens the door” for talk about price gouging, Assistant U.S. Attorney Alexandra Smith said.
Even Shkreli's face didn’t play well.
“I looked right at him, and in my head I said, 'That's a snake,' not knowing who he is,” one woman told the judge.
“So much for the presumption of innocence,” quipped Shkreli’s attorney, Benjamin Brafman. He noted that he’d objected to a reporter being present for the questioning because he’s “anticipating an article, a piece, that will further complicate the already complicated job of defending someone so many people feel strongly about.”
"I'm not trying to create any difficulty for your client," Judge Matsumoto said.
Another prospective juror mimicked wringing Shkreli's neck as the commented on him raising drug prices.
“Who does that?” she asked. “A person who puts profit over everything else.”
Despite Shkreli’s vilification in pop culture, only a small fraction of prospective jurors said they knew who he was and pre-formed an opinion. Many more cited work and scheduling conflicts, as well as planned getaways, as the reason they couldn't fulfill their civic duty.
And one even had his back.
“I would never convict him,” one woman told the judge.
“I think it’s a scam, the stock market,” she clarified, adding that she believes people investing in it already know that.