Theranos founder Holmes blasts ex-boyfriend Balwani in final effort to persuade jury before defense rests

Technology

Elizabeth Holmes, founder of Theranos Inc., leaves federal court in San Jose, California, on Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

SAN JOSE, Calif. — In her final effort to try and sway the jury in her criminal fraud trial, Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes blasted ex-boyfriend Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, her former second-in-command, for emotional abuse that affected how she operated the company.

Holmes, 37, spent seven days on the stand, ultimately becoming the star witness of her own defense. She’s fighting 11 counts of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Holmes, who faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted, has pleaded not guilty.

On Wednesday, during her final hours of testimony, Holmes fielded questions from her attorney, Kevin Downey. While Holmes acknowledged that she was the ultimate decision maker, she blamed Balwani for much of what transpired.

“Who was the most important advisor to you?” Downey asked.

“Sunny was,” Holmes said.

Holmes told the jury that she “tried not to ignite” Balwani in their correspondence, which was frequently by text message.

“Sunny would often blow off steam or vent through text,” Holmes said. “I was trying to be supportive.”

A courtroom sketch showing Elizabeth Holmes testifying on Nov. 22nd, 2021.
Courtesy: Vicki Behringer

The defense rested late Wednesday morning. Closing arguments are expected to begin on Dec. 16, in a trial that started with jury selection in late August. Balwani, who faces the same charges as Holmes, is set to stand trial early next year.

In Holmes’ case, the government called 29 witnesses, including investors, ex-employees, patients and business partners. Holmes was the third and final witness called by her defense team. She followed former Theranos board member Fabrizio Bonanni, who testified that Holmes attempted to improve the company after it came under regulatory scrutiny.

Blaming Balwani

A key aspect of the defense has been the shifting of blame to Balwani, who Holmes claims abused her physically, emotionally and sexually. Balwani denies the allegations.

In earlier testimony, Holmes told the jury she decided to devote her life to starting Theranos after she was raped while a student at Stanford University.

The government said it plans to file a motion to strike part of Holmes’ testimony, including her allegation of sexual assault while at Stanford. Robert Leach, an assistant U.S. attorney, told the judge the testimony was irrelevant to the case since the defense chose not to call a psychologist as a witness to testify about Holmes’ mindset as CEO.

On the stand on Wednesday, Holmes told the jury it took her awhile, but she eventually learned that conditions in certain parts of the company controlled by Balwani were worse than she’d been told.

Downey asked Holmes if Balwani criticized employees at Theranos “as being incompetent.”

“He did,” Holmes said, adding that Balwani was also critical of her performance.

Balwani’s attorney, Jeffrey Coopersmith, declined to comment. Holmes, who was romantically involved with Balwani for over a decade, testified that their breakup was “a process.”

Sunny Balwani, former president and chief operating officer of Theranos Inc., leaves federal court in San Jose, California, Oct. 2, 2019.
Michael Short | Bloomberg | Getty Images

“He showed up at the church I would go to at night and at the Dish, which is where I used to run around Stanford,” Holmes said. “The places I would go outside work.”

Downey ended his questioning by asking Holmes about a key allegation against her — whether she ever intended to mislead investors.

“Never,” Holmes replied.

Downey asked if she acknowledges that investors lost money.

“I do,” Holmes said.

“Was that a result of you attempting to mislead them?” Downey asked.

“Of course not,” Holmes replied.

In her last words to the jury, Holmes restated her original vision for Theranos.

“I wanted to change the impact the company could make for people and for health care,” Holmes said. “There were people that were long-term investors and I wanted to talk about what this company could do a year from now, five years from now, 10 years from now.”

As she stepped down from the witness stand, Holmes turned to her right and looked directly to the jury box, where eight men and four women have listened to three months of testimony inside the San Jose courtroom. In the coming weeks, they will decide Holmes’ fate.

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