After a 15-week trial, a jury today found the founder of the Theranos company guilty on four of the 11 counts of fraud with which she was charged. In an earlier post I discussed how she had persuaded gullible wealthy people like Rupert Murdoch, George Schultz, and henry Kissinger that she had the makings of being the next Steve Jobs, an image that she carefully cultivated and a comparison that she encouraged by her dress and speech. She was found guilty on four of the 11 charges.
A jury convicted Holmes, who was CEO throughout the company’s turbulent 15-year history, on two counts of wire fraud and two counts of conspiracy to commit fraud after seven days of deliberation. The 37-year-old was acquitted on four other counts of fraud and conspiracy that alleged she deceived patients who paid for Theranos blood tests, too.
The jury deadlocked on three remaining charges, which a federal judge anticipates dismissing as part of a mistrial ruling that could come as early as next week. The split verdicts are “a mixed bag for the prosecution, but it’s a loss for Elizabeth Holmes because she is going away to prison for at least a few years,” said David Ring, a lawyer who has followed the case closely.
At one point, it seemed as if the jurors were completely deadlocked, risking a complete mistrial. But it turned out that they could not agree only on three of the charges.
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.
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.
She faces up to 20 years in prison.
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.”
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.
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.
Legal observers were surprised that she chose to take the stand in her own defense since that opened her up to cross-examination.
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.
This article looks at the key aspects of the case. The testimony of former employees of the company may have been the most damning, coupled with her manipulation of documents.
Was it a good idea to take the stand? Ghislaine Maxwell declined to give evidence in her case and she too ended up being convicted.
It may be that taking the stand or not in one’s defense may only matter in cases where the prosecution does not have a strong case. In the cases of Holmes and Maxwell, the weight of evidence may have been too strong to overcome, whichever option they chose.