Elizabeth Holmes trial Week 13 recap: Claims of abuse, a botched attempt to block an exposé, and whistleblower regrets

Theranos founder and former CEO Elizabeth Holmes along with her partner Billy Evans (R) leave the Robert F. Peckham Federal Building on November 23, 2021 in San Jose, California. Holmes is facing charges of conspiracy and wire fraud for allegedly engaging in a multimillion-dollar scheme to defraud investors with the Theranos blood testing lab services.
  • Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes took the stand again in her federal fraud trial this week.
  • Holmes testified that her ex and former COO, Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, abused her. 
  • She described trying to kill an exposé and said she wished she’d listened to a whistleblower.

Holmes says Balwani abused her

Holmes testified Monday that Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, her ex-boyfriend and Theranos’ former president and COO, physically and emotionally abused her. The two met during a trip to China when Holmes was 18 years old and Balwani was 37. Holmes said, after being raped while a student at Stanford University, she decided to drop out to build Theranos. She told Balwani she had been raped, and “he said that I was safe now that I had met him,” Holmes testified.

The Theranos founder said Balwani also sexually abused her, though. “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 he still loved me,” Holmes said, according to The New York Times.

Jurors saw notes Holmes wrote on her phone after the alleged assault.

“Don’t enjoy literally anything about it or who I am if I did it. Hurts so much. So so much. Can’t focus on anything except why? Why hurting myself? Can’t even move let alone do sit-ups or actually sit up. Lying swollen. Literally,” the notes read, according to The Verge.

“He told me I didn’t know what I was doing in business, that my convictions were wrong, that he was astonished at my mediocrity, that if I followed my instincts I was going to fail and that I needed to kill the person I was to become what he called a new Elizabeth that could be a successful entrepreneur,” Holmes said, according to CNBC.

Holmes said Balwani was behind a series of guidelines for her behavior and instructions for her that outlined “the pursuit of success in business.” More texts between Holmes and Balwani were also recently made public as submitted evidence; they reveal some tensions between the two of them.

Balwani’s lawyers have previously denied Holmes’ abuse allegations.

Holmes said Balwani didn’t control her statements to investors, board members, business partners, and journalists despite the abuse she alleges.

Holmes tried to quash bombshell investigation

Holmes said she was “very worried” about The Wall Street Journal’s Theranos investigation and the possibility it would expose trade secrets. She emailed the Journal’s owner, Rupert Murdoch, who had also invested $US125 ($AU178) million in Theranos, hoping to kill the story.

Holmes called her handling of the story “a disaster,” adding, “We totally messed it up.”

Holmes: Others were in charge

Holmes testified that Balwani managed the lab’s operations, and the lab’s directors and other leaders made the calls when it came to clinical and scientific decisions. Pressed by prosecutors, Holmes admitted she ultimately had the authority to fire anyone as CEO. When asked if the buck stopped with her, she testified, “I felt that,” according to The Verge.

Theranos’ handling of whistleblowers

An email from 2014 with concerns raised by whistleblower Tyler Shultz was presented in court with Holmes’ response: “Tyler these are very, very serious comments and allegations you’re making. I am going to have the teams go through this line by line so it will take some time before I get back to you on this.”

Holmes said she relayed Shultz’s message to Theranos’ then-senior scientist, Daniel Young, and felt confident he assuaged his concerns. She also said she regretted Theranos’ treatment of another whistleblower, Erika Cheung, and admitted Cheung was right in hindsight, according to NBC News.

 “I sure as hell wish we treated her differently and listened to her,” Holmes said.

Holmes denied prosecutors’ claims that Theranos tried to intimidate or retaliate against Shultz and Cheung