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In a desperate attempt to save herself Elizabeth Holmes wrapped up seven days of testimony in her criminal fraud trial on Wednesday, December 9.
So far, all she has done is she has used the time to defend her actions as CEO of the startup Theranos. She was testifying once again to her ex-boyfriend and ex-no. 2 – Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani. Holmes closed by blaming the executive, alleging that her emotional abuse undermined her ability to run the company.
Holmes alternately took responsibility for her missteps as CEO and cast herself as the abused victim of her former lover and business partner. She also repeatedly said she couldn’t recall her actions at key points even when confronted with internal documents including her own emails.
During her 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.”
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.
Holmes’ pivotal moment came last week when she revealed that she had been raped during her freshman year at Stanford University, a traumatic event that she testified was later exploited by Balwani, the company’s chief operating officer.
She depicted herself as a tortured soul who was ruthlessly manipulated by Balwani, a previously successful technology entrepreneur nearly 20 years her senior.
Holmes depicted herself as Balwani’s puppet represented a radical departure from the image she had carefully crafted for the media and in public presentations.
Balwani faces his own trial over Theranos’ collapse next year. His lawyer has emphatically denied Holmes’ claims of abuse.
To David Ring, an attorney who has represented victims of alleged sexual abuse and has been following the trial closely, Holmes’ testimony was “an incredibly risky move.”
“Defendants usually only take the stand if they think they are losing the case, or if they are winning by so much that they think they can keep piling it on,” he said. “This case is going to turn on whether the jury buys that Elizabeth Holmes was mentally, verbally and sexually abused by Sunny Balwani.”
Although she seemed to have no problem recalling the tumultuous times she experienced with Balwani, Holmes’ memory became much foggier while she was being grilled by government prosecutor Robert Leach about key events at Theranos that led to its downfall.
Holmes so frequently struggled to remember what happened that Leach fell into a refrain, frequently pulling up internal Theranos documents, including Holmes’ own emails, in an attempt to “refresh” her memory about key incidents.
“Jurors pick up on what seems like selective memory,” Ring said.
Prodded in part by some of the testimony she heard from other witnesses in the trial, Holmes repeatedly acknowledged she mishandled a variety of issues while running Theranos.
Holmes expressed some of her deepest remorse for brushing off warnings from two former Theranos employees, Erika Cheung and Tyler Shultz, who were raising red flags about the wildly inaccurate results produced by the company’s testing device, called the Edison.
Holmes later authorized attempts to intimidate them with threats of legal action after they became whistleblowers and sources for a series of Wall Street Journal articles that disclosed the flaws in Theranos’ technology.
Without explicitly apologizing, Holmes said she regretted trying to mislead the Journal reporter, John Carreyrou, as he was investigating the company. She also admitted she shouldn’t have tried to convince media mogul Rupert Murdoch, the Journal’s owner and a major investor in Theranos, to block the story from being published. “We really messed up,” she conceded.
When pressed about her seemingly furtive behavior at Theranos, Holmes framed her actions as an attempt to protect trade secrets rather than as a cover-up of the Edison’s flaws.
When Theranos secretly began testing blood on Siemens machine, Holmes testified she even sought advice from the company board about whether that approach should be treated as a trade secret. The board, she noted, included former Sen. Sam Nunn, a former board member at Coca-Cola — making him someone familiar with the importance of protecting trade secrets, she suggested.
Most of her finger pointing aimed at Balwani and the company’s former lab director, Adam Rosendorff, who spent six days on the stand testifying about his attempts to make her aware of the serious problems he was seeing before he quit in late 2014.
But Leach also got Holmes to acknowledge that she had by far the most power at Theranos, given that she was the private company’s controlling shareholder as well as chief executive.
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.