SAN JOSE, Calif. — It lasted less than three weeks, centered on one person’s testimony and spanned topics such as financial projections, private jets, falsified documents and intimate partner abuse.
On Wednesday, lawyers for Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of the blood testing startup Theranos, concluded their defense in her fraud trial. She was the final witness and, after spending seven days on the stand, her testimony ended abruptly on a question about justice.
“You understand they were entitled to truthful answers about Theranos’ capabilities?” Robert Leach, an assistant U.S. attorney and a lead prosecutor, asked Holmes, referring to Theranos’ investors and patients who are at the heart of the case’s fraud charges.
“Of course,” Holmes said.
The end of her defense marked the final stages of a trial that has lasted nearly four months and captivated the public as a referendum on Silicon Valley’s startup culture. Holmes, 37, faces 11 counts of fraud related to claims she made to investors and patients about Theranos, which collapsed in scandal in 2018.
Next, lawyers from both sides of the case must agree on a set of jury instructions before delivering their closing arguments, which will begin Dec. 16. Then the jury will begin deliberations for a verdict in the case, which stands out because so few technology executives face criminal fraud charges.
Holmes’ testimony made up the bulk of her defense. For seven days, she pointed blame at others for the failure of Theranos and its blood testing technology. She said that her words were misconstrued and that she had believed Theranos devices worked. She said she had concealed certain information about Theranos because it was a trade secret. And she focused on Ramesh Balwani, her ex-boyfriend and business partner, who she said was responsible for overstated financial projections and problems in Theranos’ lab.
Balwani, who is known as Sunny and is roughly two decades older than her, had also been controlling and abusive, Holmes testified. He had prescribed her schedule, diet, self-presentation and who she could see, she said. He also forced her to have sex with him, she said.
When asked how that affected her work at Theranos, Holmes said it was difficult to separate where his influence began and ended. In legal filings made before the start of the trial, Balwani strongly rebutted allegations of abuse.
But Holmes also acknowledged making mistakes. She added the logos of pharmaceutical companies to validation reports that she sent to investors, which led them to believe the drug companies had endorsed Theranos’ technology. She said she regretted the way she handled a Wall Street Journal exposé with private investigators and legal attacks on former employees who had spoken to the journalist. And she acknowledged allowing incorrect information to be disseminated in a positive Fortune cover article about her.
Holmes concluded her testimony with a speech about her intentions in pitching Theranos to investors, patients and the press.
“I wanted to convey the impact,” she said. “I wanted to talk about what this company could do a year from now, five years from now, 10 years from now. They weren’t interested in today or tomorrow or next month; they were interested in what kind of change we could make.”
It was all meant to support the defense’s main argument, as outlined in opening statements made in September. Holmes, her lawyers said, made mistakes. But her mistakes were not a crime. She was naive and ambitious, they argued, but never meant to deceive.
“Theranos didn’t see mistakes as crimes; they saw them as part of the path to success,” Lance Wade, one of Holmes’ lawyers, said in his opening statement.
In cross-examination, prosecutors sought to dismantle Holmes’ excuses. They noted that Theranos had shared plenty of other trade secrets with its partners, which signed nondisclosure agreements. He pointed out times that Holmes allowed false and misleading information about Theranos to spread to investors and patients.
Earlier in the trial, during testimony from 29 witnesses called by prosecutors, Holmes’ lawyers sought to poke holes and create confusion around the facts of the case. They attacked the credibility of investors, trying to show that they should have done better research on Theranos before investing to understand the risks and the details of its business. And they tried to argue that patients who testified that they received troubling blood test results from Theranos were not qualified to interpret them.