How Elizabeth Holmes’ abuse allegations could impact her criminal trial


But this week, the tearful Holmes took the witness stand and offered a surprisingly different take on the time she spent running the business. Behind the scenes, according to Holmes, she was in the midst of a decade-long abusive relationship with chief operating officer and president of Theranos, Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, who she said tried to control almost every aspect. of his life.

The allegation of Holmes, who is one of the few witnesses called to testify by his defense team, was by far the most emotional moment of his five days on the stand so far. Her claim, which Balwani’s lawyers have already denied, could also complicate the government’s case against her. in the eyes of the jury.

The government alleges Holmes knowingly misled investors, doctors and patients about the capabilities of his company’s blood testing technology through an alleged money-seeking deception ring. Holmes faces nine counts of wire fraud and two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and up to 20 years in prison if convicted. She pleaded not guilty.

His abuse complaint potentially raises new questions for jurors about his intention to mislead – a key factor the jury of eight men and four women will take into account in determining his fate. Indeed, just before the jury selection began, the court unveiled documents specifying that Holmes could claim that she had been abused by Balwani as evidence “that she had no intention of deceiving”. (Potential jurors were also asked if they had ever experienced abuse or interpersonal violence in an attempt to weed out those who might be biased.)

“It can do [jurors] guess if she was intentionally committing fraud, “said Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School and former federal prosecutor. Some jurors, however, might be skeptical of her testimony.” This case is essentially about who and to what Elizabeth Holmes is. point is she opportunistic to say whatever the moment forces her to say. “

“This confuses the subject of the trial a bit”

Holmes first met Balwani after graduating from high school when she was just 18 and 38. Holmes then dropped out of her sophomore year at Stanford to start a business, a decision she testified to was due in part to the fact that she had been raped at school. . When she chose to focus on starting a business, she said that she sought business advice from Balwani. The relationship then became romantic.

As she held back tears, she testified that Balwani’s control over her ranged from forcing her to have sex with him to prescribing an incredibly restrictive lifestyle. He would have disciplined his diet, his voice and his image. He would also have isolated her from others.

“Sunny would be very upset if I was with my family because he said it was a distraction for the business,” she said Monday.

Notably, Holmes said Balwani does not control his interactions with investors, reporters, retail executives or board members. On the contrary, she said, “it made an impact on everything I was, and I don’t quite understand that.”

Balwani, who was indicted alongside Holmes and will face the same charges when his trial begins next year, also pleaded not guilty. Their trials were broken off after Holmes said she could testify that she had been a victim of domestic violence.

According to Dr. Evan Stark, forensic social worker, the nature of the relationship that Holmes asserted has the characteristics of something called “coercive control,” which is also the title of a book by Stark. The term refers to a pattern of abusive behavior that robs a person of their freedom.

Stark has consulted on cases (but not the Holmes case) with clinical psychologist Dr Mindy Mechanic, whom the defense has indicated it may call to testify as an expert in the Holmes trial. Mechanic, whose work focuses on the psychosocial consequences of violence, trauma and victimization, assessed Holmes for 14 hours and also conducted interviews with members of his family, according to pre-trial documents. “Expert testimony will be useful and appropriate in educating the jury as to the reasons for Ms. Holmes’ belief, deference and confidence in Mr. Balwani,” the defense wrote in a court record. (The government was also able to have an expert assess Holmes.)

Stark said Holmes’ abuse testimony is ultimately a jury appeal. “This raises a question in the minds of the jury as to whether or not she was fully responsible for the activities.”

Dr Ziv Cohen, forensic psychiatrist and assistant professor at Weill Cornell Medical College, said he could also be effective “Because that confuses the subject of the trial a bit. “

Jessica Roth, professor at Cardozo Law School and former federal prosecutor, echoed this point. “This could be true both – that she was in an abusive relationship as she claims, and that she is guilty of the charges. I don’t think the government has to rebut her claims for them to prevail at trial. “

Attempting to drill holes after explosive testimony

At the very least, the abuse allegation potentially complicates the prosecution’s cross-examination of Holmes by introducing sensitivities.

In asking Holmes about Deputy U.S. attorney Robert Leach on Tuesday sought to compare Balwani’s alleged control over her life with her power in the company she founded, directed, and in which she had a 51% stake.

“Was he an employee at will?” Leach asked. “He was,” Holmes said. ” OK. Can you send it back at any time? Leach continued. “I could,” Holmes replied.

Leach sought to discredit Holmes by pointing out that her justification for separating from Balwani differed from previous testimony given to the Securities and Exchange Commission. She told the SEC that her relationship with Balwani lost its romantic sparkle after she started working together. She did not mention, as she testified on Monday, that her perspective on Balwani changed after learning of the findings of a regulatory inspection of Theranos’ lab.

Leach also sought to establish that she was able to end the relationship on her own, without seeing any mental health professionals.

The awkwardness of the prosecution’s questioning became palpable on Tuesday as Leach asked Holmes to read aloud his private messages with Balwani in a bid to prove their relationship was “sometimes loving and sometimes less loving.” In doing so, Holmes, for the second day in a row, became emotional at the stand.

Stark has said that if the intention is to use text messages to discredit the nature of the relationship, Dr. Mechanic will “tear that argument to pieces” if she is called to testify by the defense. “There is nothing inconsistent between men in love that hurt you,” Stark said.

Levenson, the former federal prosecutor, said the government must “be careful not to cross the line into going into a lawsuit to find out if she has been abused and keep the case focused on the fact that despite her personal life , she always knowingly made false statements. . “

Leach also asked Holmes if she was “involved in another romantic relationship during the period from 2010 to 2015”. Holmes, who lived with Balwani from 2005 to 2016, initially testified ‘no’, in apparent confusion over dates. She then confirmed that she was in another at the start of 2010, but “it was not really a formal relationship.”

The relevance of the question was not explained by Leach. But according to Cohen, this may have been an attempt to show off the ways Holmes seemed to have action. “If he was a mugger and a controller, it wouldn’t fit into her dating someone else. It’s uncomfortable but the prosecution really has to dig holes.”

Leach’s cross-examination of Holmes is scheduled to resume on Tuesday.


Comments are closed.