Elizabeth Holmes — the disgraced founder of defunct blood-testing startup Theranos — cried on the stand Monday as she testified about being raped as a student and allegedly abused by her ex-boyfriend and former business partner.
The 37-year-old entrepreneur testified that being raped while a student at Stanford University pushed her to drop out of school and throw herself into building the company.
When she later started dating Sunny Balwani, her co-defendant and former Theranos COO who’s being tried separately, “he said I was safe now that I had met him,” Holmes testified as part of her own defense in her fraud trial.
But, she went on, Balwani allegedly perpetuated a cycle of abuse in which he controlled all aspects of Holmes’ life and the way she ran Theranos.
Holmes — some 20 years younger than Balwani — testified that Balwani coached her on how to behave and speak, and pushed her to adopt a rigorous daily schedule as well as strict diet.
“He told me that I didn’t know what I was doing in business, that my convictions were wrong, that he was astonished at my mediocrity and if I followed my instincts I was going to fail,” Holmes claimed.
She added that he said that “who I was was never going to be a person who would succeed in life or in business, so I needed to kill that person and become a new Elizabeth.”
“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 added, sobbing.
Throughout the trial, prosecutors have accused Holmes of lying about Theranos’ technology and manipulating investors to enrich herself and become the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire.
Holmes is facing two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and nine counts of wire fraud — and could be sent to jail for 20 years. The trial is scheduled to end Dec. 17.
But Holmes has sought to cast the blame for the company’s failures on Balwani, saying that he truly controlled the company while she served only as its unwitting public face.
Balwani, for his part, has disputed the accusations. He’ll be tried separately next year.
On Monday, Holmes’ defense team presented a document that Holmes said she created on her iPhone that contained notes she allegedly took after Balwani had been yelling at her.
“I don’t enjoy being in a company that’s not going to win. I don’t have the faith. So angry at myself for coming. So angry spent [sic] 5 years of my life. Biggest failure of my life. Regret coming. Stayed because I love you … F–king mediocre quality of this piece of s–t company,” he allegedly told her.
After one incident in which Balwani allegedly forced her to have sex, Holmes wrote in another document recorded on her iPhone: “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.”
Balwani’s grasp on Holmes was broken in 2016, shortly after The Wall Street Journal published an expose that raised questions about the claims made by Theranos about its products.
Holmes said it was a report from an internal lab inspection in 2015, which Holmes did not see until 2016, that was her wake-up call. That report said Theranos’ products posed “immediate jeopardy to patient safety.”
Balwani left the company that year after Holmes brought in outside advisors and lab directors.
Holmes will likely face tough questioning from prosecutors on Tuesday as the direct examination by her defense team came to a close on Monday.
Despite Holmes’ claims of abuse, various witnesses earlier in the trial have said Holmes was the true leader of the company and that they saw Balwani defer to her in meetings.
James Mattis, for example, a former Theranos board member and investor, testified that Holmes was “in charge” of the company.