Elizabeth Holmes grilled by prosecutors on witness stand In a tense day of testimony, the former founder of Theranos tried to fight assertions from federal prosecutors that she deliberately deceived investors and misled patients.

Elizabeth Holmes grilled by prosecutors on witness stand in her criminal fraud trial

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The woman once seen as the female Steve Jobs is trying to convince a jury that she is not guilty of fraud. Elizabeth Holmes is the founder of the now-collapsed biotech startup Theranos, and she's been testifying before a jury for five days in Silicon Valley. NPR's Bobby Allyn has been in the courtroom. Hi, Bobby.


SHAPIRO: Before you describe her defense, remind us what crimes Elizabeth Holmes is charged with.

ALLYN: Prosecutors say she intentionally lied to investors and patients and doctors about what Theranos could do. Remember, Theranos was hailed for creating this medical breakthrough - being able to test for, you know, hundreds of conditions with just this tiny little pinprick of blood from the tip of your finger. That would mean no big needles if it were true. But prosecutors already say, you know, the problem is she duped investors about the technology and delivered false results to patients, and in the process, she got rich. Holmes was once considered the world's youngest self-made female billionaire.

SHAPIRO: And she's been testifying for five days. What is she saying in her defense?

ALLYN: Yeah, her defense is really twofold. She's told the jury that, look, she made mistakes. She now regrets those mistakes, but she never broke the law. And then there's this more controversial part of her defense, and it involves her ex-boyfriend and business partner, Sunny Balwani. She says he emotionally and sexually abused her. She says that alleged abuse clouded her judgment. And, you know, when she was describing this, Ari, the courtroom got really emotional. I mean, she was speaking haltingly. She was dabbing her eyes with a tissue. It was a really intense moment. And when I talked to legal experts about what they made of this - you know, bringing in abuse charges in a white-collar criminal trial - there was a lot of debate about whether it would benefit or not benefit her. I talked to Tom Mesereau. He's a longtime criminal defense lawyer, and he's represented Michael Jackson and Bill Cosby.

THOMAS MESEREAU: We live in the #MeToo era, where jurors tend to be much more open and receptive to allegations of abuse in relationships. So from where I sit, I think the defense is smart to present it.

SHAPIRO: How have prosecutors responded to the abuse allegations in court?

ALLYN: Yeah. They said, you know, since Holmes was CEO of Theranos, she could have fired Balwani, her No. 2, whenever she wanted. And prosecutors also said Holmes' relationship with Balwani just wasn't as bad as she was saying. The main prosecutor here in the trial - his name is Robert Leach. He showed the jury dozens of these lovey-dovey text messages where Holmes called Balwani, quote, "my king" and, quote, "my tiger." It was pretty awkward to hear this. And, you know, legal experts say when Holmes introduced the abuse allegations, she was setting herself up for this line of questioning, for the government to confront her on this. Balwani, we should note, has a separate trial next year.

SHAPIRO: It's risky for Holmes to take the stand in her defense, right? Why did they decide to put her on?

ALLYN: It is risky. But remember; Holmes' superpower is her charm. That is how she landed on magazine covers, and that is how she raised millions of dollars from very savvy investors. But over this three-month trial, Ari, you know, the government has had company whistleblowers, patients, former board members of the company testify against her. You know, they have documents, they say, that show that, you know, Holmes, you know, forged these documents to try to win business. And they have recordings that they played for the jury about business partnerships Holmes was bragging about that never panned out. And so in light of all of that pretty strong evidence, I asked defense attorney Mesereau, would you have put her on the stand? And here's what he said.

MESEREAU: If she doesn't do that, she remains an abstraction. It's much easier to attack an abstraction than it is a likable, believable, relatable human being.

ALLYN: That's Mesereau's opinion. We'll see what the jury thinks about whether or not Elizabeth Holmes is believable. Next week, the jury will be deliberating - probably at the end of the week.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Bobby Allyn. Thank you.

ALLYN: Thanks, Ari.


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