There was a time when Elizabeth Holmes, the now-disgraced founder and former CEO of Theranos, was heralded as a genius.
At the age of 19, she dropped out of Stanford and founded the $9 billion Silicon Valley unicorn, quickly becoming a celebrated entrepreneurial icon.
She was even described by some as “the next Steve Jobs” as she became the youngest self-made female billionaire in the world.
Holmes and other Theranos employees claimed the company’s Edison machines could complete a full range of medical and clinical tests using just a few drops of blood from patients.
Then the funding capital dried up, investors started asking questions, and the wheels came off in spectacular fashion.
The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley, a doccie by Oscar-winning director Alex Gibney, soon followed.
In cases like this, justice is rarely swift, and more than three years after being indicted on multiple federal fraud and conspiracy charges, Holmes’ case will finally go to trial this week.
She will face two counts of conspiring to commit wire fraud and 10 counts of federal wire fraud, with jury selection beginning today.
CNN reports the court case is likely to go on for months, so let’s get the basics sorted:
Holmes and Theranos’ former COO Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani [with Holmes below], who were romantically involved while working together, are accused of engaging in a multi-million dollar scheme to defraud investors from 2010 to 2015, as well as a scheme to defraud doctors and patients who paid for its blood testing services from 2013 to 2016.
Both have pleaded not guilty and could face up to 20 years in prison as well as a fine of $250,000, plus restitution for each count of wire fraud and each conspiracy count.
The prosecution will have to prove that Holmes intended to deceive investors and doctors, which legal experts say will be the most difficult task of the trial.
Exactly what Holmes knew, and when she knew it, will be crucial.
Holmes’ legal team may well look to point the finger at Balwani in order to secure their desired verdict:
The two successfully pushed to be tried separately, and newly unsealed court documents reveal why: Holmes plans to accuse Balwani of psychological, emotional and sexual abuse, detailing tactics he allegedly used to exert control over her and the psychological impact of said abuse.
Balwani “adamantly denies” the claims, calling them “deeply offensive” and “devastating personally to him.”
Holmes’ attorneys may also present evidence “relating to a mental disease or defect or any other mental condition of the defendant bearing on … the issue of guilt.”
The list of potential witnesses is lengthly, with a few big names standing out:
Media mogul Rupert Murdoch, who was once reportedly the company’s largest investor with more than $100 million; David Boies, the prominent attorney who represented Harvey Weinstein, and was an investor, board member and legal defense for Holmes and Theranos for a time; as well as Mattis and Kissinger.
The most damaging testimonies against Holmes may well come from the 11 patients who say they were impacted by Theranos’ inaccurate test results, although the court has already agreed on a limited scope for what they can speak about.
Perhaps the most intriguing question at this stage relates to whether or not Holmes will take the stand herself.
It’s likely that her legal team will argue against her doing so, but the final call will be hers to make.
If the mental disease argument is used, it may be beneficial for Holmes to testify, which is also the case if her team pushes the argument that she suffered abuse from Balwani.
Those are all scenarios for further down the line, with CNBC reporting that finding impartial jurors has been far from easy:
The pool of potential jurors in the criminal fraud trial of embattled Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes was cut on Wednesday [August 25] after her attorneys and federal prosecutors identified some were biased, according to the completed questionnaires.
“Thirty to forty of the remaining jurors have consumed substantial, and I mean lengthy extrajudicial material, about the case and about the defendant,” Kevin Downey, an attorney for Holmes, told the judge. “We’re very vulnerable to any of the jurors commenting in some ways as either the court or lawyers conduct voir dire about the content of the media they’ve seen.”
Voir dire is the legal term for preliminary examinations of jurors.
With Holmes and Theranos having been media fodder for so long, settling on a jury to hear the trial will take far longer than is usually the case.
In other words, we’re only just approaching the starting blocks of what promises to be a fascinating legal battle.
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