Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes is back on the stand Tuesday, facing questions from prosecutors after she tearfully told the jury Monday about what she described as nearly a decade of mental and physical abuse at the hands of her former romantic partner and company COO, Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani.
Holmes, 37, said that Balwani, 56, forced her to have sex with him and “prescribed” her a schedule which included who to meet with and what to eat.
"He impacted everything about who I was," said Holmes, who paused before continuing. "And I don't fully understand that."
“He would force me to have sex with him when I didn’t want to because he would say that he wanted me to know that he still loved me,” Holmes also told the court while being questioned on the stand by her lead attorney, Kevin Downey.
Balwani was charged as her co-defendant but was granted a severed trial in March after learning that Holmes’ lawyers might use the abuse claims as part of their defense.
Balwani’s trial is scheduled for early 2022. He denies all allegations.
The former Theranos CEO, who dropped out of college at 19 and went on to launch the once burgeoning biotech start-up that promised to revolutionize blood testing, is charged with nine counts of wire fraud and two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. She could face decades in prison if convicted. She has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Holmes testified that Balwani did not force her to make misleading statements to the press and investors. But the impact of Balwani’s alleged abuse on her was pervasive, she said.
Holmes also testified that before she met Balwani, she was raped by someone else while attending Stanford University, which she said factored into her decision to drop out and “pour” herself into building Theranos.
“I decided I was going to build a life by building this company,” she told jurors.
Holmes was 18 years old when she met Balwani, then 38, overseas in China. She said she understood at the time he was a “really successful business person” and asked his advice on building a company.
The pair dated from 2005 to 2016, a relationship Holmes characterized as persistently abusive.
“He told me that I didn’t know what I was doing in business ... that he was astonished at my mediocrity ... and that I needed to kill the person that I was to become what he would call a new Elizabeth who could be a successful entrepreneur,” Holmes said.
Santa Clara Law professor Ellen Kreitzberg said the bombshell allegations about Balwani could be used by her counsel to argue she had no intent to defraud — a key element of the charges leveled against her.
Prosecutor Robert Leach should be “very focused on her intent to defraud in [his] questions,” she said.
“[His] tone should also be non-confrontational, especially to start since she projected a sympathetic figure yesterday,” Kreitzberg added. “They need to be able to argue that, even if she was influenced by Balwani, she knew information was false, she intentionally gave it to investors, and she did so to get money from them.”