Theranos founder Holmes destroys Sunny Balwani before the defense rests


Elizabeth Holmes, founder of Theranos Inc., leaves federal court in San Jose, California on Wednesday, December 8, 2021.

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

SAN JOSE, Calif. – In her final attempt to sway the jury in their criminal fraud trial, Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes beat up ex-boyfriend Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, her former deputy, for emotional abuse that affected her Company.

Holmes, 37, spent seven days on the stand and eventually became the main witness in her own defense. She fights eleven cases of transfer fraud and conspiracy to commit transfer fraud. Holmes, who faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted, has pleaded not guilty.

On Wednesday, during her final hours of testimony, Holmes asked questions from her attorney Kevin Downey. While Holmes admitted that she was the ultimate decision maker, she blamed Balwani for much of what had happened.

“Who was the most important advisor to you?” asked Downey.

“Sunny was,” said Holmes.

Holmes told the jury that she “tried not to ignite” Balwani in her correspondence, which was often via text messaging.

“Sunny often vented off steam or vented through text,” said Holmes. “I tried to support.”

A court sketch showing Elizabeth Holmes as a testimony on November 22, 2021.

Courtesy: Vicki Behringer

The defense was dormant late Wednesday morning. The closing arguments are expected to begin on December 16, in a process that began with jury selection in late August. Balwani, on the same charges as Holmes, is due to be tried early next year.

In the Holmes case, the government called 29 witnesses, including investors, former employees, patients and business partners. Holmes was the third and final witness named by her defense team. She succeeded former Theranos board member Fabrizio Bonanni, who testified that Holmes tried to improve the company after it underwent regulatory scrutiny.

Blame Balwani

An important aspect of the defense was the placing of blame on Balwani, whom Holmes claims she abused physically, emotionally and sexually. Balwani denies the allegations.

In a previous statement, Holmes told the jury that she decided to devote her life to founding Theranos after she was raped as a student at Stanford University.

The government said it plans to move to remove part of Holmes’ testimony, including her allegations of sexual assault at Stanford. Robert Leach, a US assistant prosecutor, told the judge the testimony was irrelevant to the case as the defense decided not to call a psychologist as a witness to testify about Holmes’ mindset as CEO.

On Wednesday, Holmes told the jury that it had taken a while, but they eventually learned that conditions in certain parts of the Balwani-controlled company were worse than she had been told.

Downey asked Holmes if Balwani criticized the Theranos staff as “incompetent”.

“He did,” said Holmes, adding that Balwani was also critical of her performance.

Balwani’s attorney Jeffrey Coopersmith declined to comment. Holmes, who had been romantically linked to Balwani for over a decade, testified that their breakup was “a process”.

Sunny Balwani, former President and Chief Operating Officer of Theranos Inc., leaves federal court in San Jose, California on October 2, 2019.

Michael Short | Bloomberg | Getty Images

“He showed up at the church I went to at night and the Dish that I used to walk around in Stanford,” said Holmes. “The places I would go outside of work.”

Downey ended his questioning by asking Holmes about an important allegation against her – whether she ever intended to mislead investors.

“Never,” replied Holmes.

Downey asked if she recognized that investors lost money.

“I do,” said Holmes.

“Was that a result of trying to mislead her?” asked Downey.

“Of course not,” replied Holmes.

In her final words to the jury, Holmes reiterated her original vision for Theranos.

“I wanted to change the impact the company can have on people and healthcare,” said Holmes. “There were people who were long-term investors and I wanted to talk about what this company could be doing in a year, five years, ten years from now.”

As she stepped off the stand, Holmes turned right and looked directly at the jury box, where eight men and four women heard testimony in the San Jose courtroom for three months. In the coming weeks they will decide Holmes’ fate.