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The trial of Elizabeth Holmes has somehow gotten progressively weirder since it began earlier this month—and there’s still a very long way to go.
Holmes, the Theranos founder, and former Theranos chief operating officer Sunny Balwani are accused of a dozen counts of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud against patients, doctors, and investors after the company falsely claimed that blood testing technology it developed could test for a wide range of diseases using just a few drops of blood. Balwani’s trial is scheduled to start next year, and Holmes denies the charges against her.
On Friday morning, Holmes returns to federal court in San Jose for the trial’s seventh day, following days of testimony from former employees, investors, and patients whom Theranos’ technology failed.
Yesterday, former Theranos board member and retired general James Mattis testified that Holmes had shown him the company’s technology and taken his blood at an event in 2013, two years before he retired from the military. Shortly thereafter, Mattis joined Theranos’ board.
Mattis told the court he had invested $85,000 of his own money into the company, and that although Theranos paid him $150,000 annually to sit on its board, he told Holmes he would do it for free because, he reportedly said, “I believe in what you are doing.”
Mattis left the board in 2017 after former President Donald Trump had nominated him as defense secretary. By that point, academics had publicly questioned Theranos’ technology and the Wall Street Journal published a bombshell investigation casting doubts on Theranos’ claims.
“There just came a point where I didn’t know what to believe about Theranos anymore,” Mattis testified in court. The company was dissolved in September 2018, a few months after Holmes and Balwani were charged.
Jurors were also read Holmes’ text messages on Wednesday. An investigator from PricewaterhouseCoopers testified that he and his firm spent more than 10,000 hours compiling nearly 81,000 text messages Holmes sent to Balwani and others over the course of nearly three years, in order to help Theranos lawyers respond to requests from the DOJ and Securities and Exchange Commission.
In one 2014 text between Holmes and Balwani, whom Holmes was dating at the time, she described herself as the “best business person of the year,” according to text messages obtained earlier this week by CNBC. In another text message to Balwani, Holmes told him: “You are the breeze in desert for me. My water. And ocean.” Balwani replied: “Ok.”
Holmes’ lawyers have suggested in court documents that Holmes will argue during the trial that Balwani abused her.
In addition to Mattis, the government has already called three former Theranos employees as witnesses including Erika Cheung, a lab worker who said she raised concerns about the company’s problems with supervisors and high-level executives at the company including Balwani. Cheung later reported the company to regulators.
Brittany Gould, a medical assistant from Arizona, also testified earlier this week that she received a false diagnosis of a miscarriage in 2014 based on results from a Theranos blood test, after she had already had three miscarriages. After tests through another company showed that Gould was still pregnant, she had a healthy baby.
Gould’s nurse practitioner told the court that following the problems with Gould’s diagnosis, she “felt very uncertain of the validity of the results and felt uncomfortable as a provider continuing to have my patients use” the Theranos blood test, and stopped recommending it for patients.
It’s not likely to get any easier for Holmes in the immediate future. The trial is expected to take at least 13 weeks and the list of potential witnesses includes more than 200 people, including big-name investors like Rupert Murdoch, Bill Frist, and Henry Kissinger.