Elizabeth Holmes, founder of Theranos, has been found guilty on four of 11 charges of fraud after a jury delivered a partial verdict following a dramatic day in which jurors said they remained deadlocked on three counts.
Jurors announced the decision following a high-profile, 15-week trial that chronicled the missteps of the now-defunct blood testing startup.
On Monday, the seventh day of deliberations, the jury said in a note to the judge that it was unable to reach to reach a unanimous verdict on three of the 11 criminal counts that Holmes faced. In response, the US district judge Edward Davila encouraged them to deliberate further, but jurors later returned and said they were unable to proceed, before rendering their final decision.
Holmes, 37, was charged on 11 counts of defrauding investors and patients and faces 20 years in prison. She pleaded not guilty.
The verdict seals Holmes extraordinary rise and fall and could have wide-ranging consequences for Silicon Valley. Over the course of nearly four months, federal prosecutors called 29 witnesses, outlining missteps and alleged fraud Holmes committed during her 15-year reign as CEO.
Holmes founded the company after dropping out of Stanford at 19 years old, promising a revolutionary technology that could run hundreds of health tests on just a drop of blood. But the company ultimately fell short of its ambitious pledge.
A charismatic character known for her blonde hair, uniform of black turtlenecks, and low voice, Holmes quickly rose to fame in and outside the tech world, gracing the covers of major magazines, headlining conferences, and drawing comparisons to Apple’s Steve Jobs. As Theranos grew, the company attracted big-name investors including the former secretary of states George Schultz and Henry Kissinger. At its height, Theranos was valued at more than $9bn.
But cracks in the glossy surface began to show in 2015 when Wall Street Journal reporting revealed that its in-house tests had massive inaccuracies, and that the company was performing other tests using traditional blood drawing methodology and outside labs.
The fall of Theranos has been followed with perhaps even more fervor than its spectacular rise, inspiring multiple documentaries, a feature film, and an upcoming television show. Starting in late August, throngs of reporters have lined up in the early morning hours for a seat inside the federal court house in San Jose, California.
During the trial, prosecutors painted a picture of Holmes as a strict, power-hungry leader willing to go to any lengths to save her company’s image, repressing internal and external dissent and manipulating the press.
“She chose fraud over business failure,” prosecutor Jeff Schenk said in his closing arguments. “She choose to be dishonest with investors and patients. That choice was not only callous, it was criminal.”
As witnesses, the prosecution called forward Theranos lab directors who testified that their concerns over the technology’s shortcomings were largely ignored. Meanwhile, investors such as the former US secretary of defense James Mattis said he and others were discouraged from scrutinizing the company for fear of missing out on opportunities.
The defense team for Holmes sought to counter that image by portraying Holmes as an ambitious entrepreneur who did not knowingly commit fraud, but rather did not understand the shortcomings of Theranos’ complex technology.
Those arguments came to a head when Holmes made the stunning decision to take the stand in her own defense, arguing she made decisions in good faith and did not knowingly commit fraud.
Prosecutors repeatedly pointed to documents that Holmes admitted to doctoring before sharing with potential partners, adding the logos of pharmaceutical firms and falsely implying they had endorsed the methodology.
“I wish I hadn’t done that,” she told the jury on the stand. Her defense team stated in closing arguments that the logo evidence was “a distraction” and that Holmes was in talks with those companies at the time.
Her attorneys also put forward a line of defense that Holmes was abused by her former romantic and business partner Sunny Balwani, who served for ten years as co-president of the company.
“There was another side of Holmes’s relationship with Balwani that the public never saw,” said defense attorney Lance Wade said in opening arguments, adding that “trusting [Balwani] as her primary adviser was one of her mistakes”.
Some of the most powerful moments in the trial came when Holmes testified directly about Balwani’s alleged abuse, growing emotional as the prosecution called on her to read their romantic texts. She claimed he controlled what she did, who she spent time with, and even what she ate in an effort to turn her into a successful CEO.
Balwani has strongly denied claims of mistreating Holmes. He faces his own trial in 2022 for fraud.