Elizabeth Holmes makes her case to the jury in Theranos fraud trial
Elizabeth Holmes, the onetime medical entrepreneur accused of building a fraudulent company based on promises of a revolutionary technology, returned to the witness stand Monday.
Her testimony, which focused largely on her enthusiasm based on positive early tests of that blood-testing technology, may be her best shot at avoiding conviction on charges of criminal fraud. Prosecutors allege she duped investors and patients into believing her invention was a technological breakthrough.
Holmes spent most of her time on the witness stand Monday describing clinical studies and other records extolling the effectiveness of a small blood-testing device made by Theranos, a startup she founded in 2003 after dropping out of Stanford University at 19.
U.S. District Judge Edward Davila didn’t explain why he met with lawyers from both sides of the case behind closed doors while a masked — and befuddled — audience sat in a packed courtroom.
Holmes’ latest round of testimony came after her lawyers called her to the stand during the final hour of Friday’s proceedings in what has been the most dramatic moment of a high-profile trial that began in early September.
Anticipation of Holmes’ return to the stand Monday drew a large crowd outside of the San Jose courthouse, with the first person lining up around 1 a.m. PT. The roughly 35 people who got into the small courtroom Monday included one of Holmes’ biggest foils: former Wall Street Journal reporter John Carreyrou, who wrote a series of explosive articles starting in October 2015 that triggered Theranos’ collapse and the ensuing criminal case.
Responding to friendly questions from one of her attorneys gives Holmes, 37, a chance to sway the jurors who will determine her fate. If convicted, the former billionaire could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison.
After being prompted by her attorney to explain some technical terms about blood testing, Holmes looked directly at the jury and delved into the topic as if she were a teacher addressing her students.
Having shed the mask she’s worn while sitting stoically through trial, Holmes occasionally smiled as she discussed the studies. She tried to make eye contact with the 14 jurors, including two alternates, as they walked out during a morning break and later at the conclusion of the day’s proceedings.
The studies, conducted with several major pharmaceutical companies from 2008 to 2010, showed that the third generation of a Theranos device known as the Edison was delivering mostly encouraging results that gave Holmes reason to believe she and the company were on the road to success.
“Results have been excellent,” one report said. Another concluded that the “results have been precise.”
The positive reports and Holmes’ testimony seemed aimed at providing insight into her state of mind, in an attempt to illuminate why she became so effusive about Theranos’ technology, which she promised would be able to scan for hundreds of diseases and health problems with just a few drops of blood taken from a finger prick.
But by 2015, Theranos’ own lab director had concluded that the company’s technology was malfunctioning in ways that produced misleading results that could potentially endanger patients. Theranos wound up running its tests on traditional blood-testing machines while continuing to raise hundreds of millions of dollars from billionaires and less-sophisticated investors.
Other evidence presented at the trial showed that Holmes in 2013 distributed misleading information about a purported partnership with Pfizer and other pharmaceutical companies that helped Theranos raise money.
Before the trial started, Holmes’ lawyers filed documents indicating that she intends to blame whatever misconduct occurred at Theranos on Sunny Balwani, the company’s former chief operating officer and her onetime lover. Those documents assert that Balwani, who faces a criminal trial next year, manipulated Holmes through “intimate partner abuse.” Balwani’s lawyer has blasted those allegations as baseless.
Holmes’ testimony will resume Tuesday morning and is expected to continue into next week.