Elizabeth Holmes testifies in her own criminal trial

UniqueThis 14 Nov 23
(Kimberly White/Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
(Kimberly White/Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Before the start of the trial, Elizabeth Holmes' attorneys indicated in court documents that she was likely to take the stand to testify herself about her alleged decade-long psychologically, emotionally and sexually abusive relationship with her ex-boyfriend and former Theranos COO, Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani. These allegations, which Balwani's attorneys have denied, are intended to speak to her state of mind at the time of the alleged fraud.

During her first two brief days on the stand, Balwani’s name did not come up. But early Tuesday, Holmes mentioned his name for the first time, testifying that Balwani was involved in negotiations with Walgreens.

Holmes attorneys had indicated in pre-court documents that she may speak to the “reasons why she believed, relied on, and deferred to Mr. Balwani.” Put simply: She may claim she lacked the intent to deceive because, due to the nature of their relationship, she believed what she was being told about the company’s technology and its business dealings. 

Holmes and Balwani are both accused of engaging in a multi-million dollar scheme to defraud investors from 2010 to 2015, and of defrauding doctors and patients who paid for the company's blood testing services from 2013 to 2016. The two face multiple federal fraud and conspiracy charges. Both have pleaded not guilty and could face up to 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000, plus restitution for each count of wire fraud and conspiracy. 

While indicted together more than three years ago, their trials were separated due to the tensions of the anticipated defense by Holmes. Balwani's attorneys acknowledged in a separate filing that Holmes' plans to introduce evidence that Balwani verbally disparaged her and controlled what she ate, how she dressed, and who she interacted with, "essentially dominating her and erasing her capacity to make decisions." The filing calls the allegations "deeply offensive to Mr. Balwani" and "devastating personally to him."

Balwani’s trial is set to begin next year.

Balwani’s name came up repeatedly during the government’s case. Jurors heard witnesses recite text messages between Holmes and Balwani to illustrate how the two were privately corresponding about key moments in the company's history. Several former employees were also asked about the nature of their relationship. 

Daniel Edlin, a college friend of Holmes’ brother who served as a senior product manager at Theranos for several years, said he was aware the two were dating and living together. The prosecution probed him for information about the power dynamic between the two. In terms of who was in charge at Theranos, Edlin said Balwani would defer to Holmes on certain things.

"Generally, Elizabeth was the CEO and she had, kind of, the final decision-making authority," he testified. When asked if Edlin ever saw Balwani overrule a decision Holmes made at Theranos, Edlin testified: "I can't recall a specific moment."