Will Elizabeth Holmes’s ‘intimate partner abuse’ defense be successful in federal court?

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The trial of Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes, 37, is finally beginning in San Jose following a long delay due to the pandemic. Holmes ran Theranos from 2003 to 2018 under a veil of legal threats and secrecy, securing hundreds of millions in funding and constantly lying to the press. She was lauded as a health technology pioneer and was on the covers of Forbes, Inc. and Fortune. We now know that she perpetrated the biggest fraud in Silicon Valley history. If she’s convicted on all counts, Holmes faces a measly 20 years in federal prison, however she might get an even lighter sentence. We’ve heard that her defense strategy will be to blame her codefendant and ex boyfriend, former Theranos President Sunny Balwani, for intimate partner abuse and for misleading her about the company’s operations and finances. Balwani is being tried separately. MSNBC’s legal analyst, Danny Cevallos, has an analysis of whether this might work. He points out several things I didn’t know, namely that prosecutions in federal court are usually successful and that 90% of cases end in guilty pleas. Here’s some of his essay with more at the source.

Balwani is Holmes’ co-defendant, but his trial has been severed from Holmes’ and will be conducted separately. The unsealed court documents largely pertained to her attorney’s request to divorce the cases so she could mount a defense asserting that Holmes acted under Balwani’s influence. According to Holmes’ legal team, Balwani’s abuse caused Holmes to believe whatever he told her about the company’s financial models. Balwani has denied allegations of abuse, and both Holmes and Balwani have pled not guilty to the fraud charges.

It’s a long-shot strategy. But then again, most defense strategies in federal criminal court are, statistically, long-shot strategies. That’s why being creative is part of the job description for federal criminal defense attorneys. Over 90 percent of federal criminal cases end in guilty pleas. Of those criminal defendants who go to trial, about 1 percent are acquitted. The perception that slick defense attorneys regularly pull “not guilty” verdicts out of thin air for guilty-as-sin defendants is a myth, the result of infamous outliers, like the O.J. Simpson verdict.

Not surprisingly, the federal government wins most of its wire fraud cases. In 2019, 597 of 645 wire fraud defendants pleaded guilty. Twenty-eight were convicted at trial. The total number of defendants who went to trial and were acquitted? Two. Ever wonder why former federal prosecutors are so confident when they’re commenting on television? It’s because they’re all winners. They win almost every single case. That has to feel amazing.

[From NBC News]

This essay gave me a lot of hope, and of course there’s more about how this is a tried and true defense strategy and that Holmes has the best lawyers. However, as Cevallos also points out, Holmes was the one who defended the company when the cracks started to show. As I mentioned in earlier coverage, even if Holmes was abused by Balwani that doesn’t erase her culpability in this. Theranos would not exist if it wasn’t for her hubris and grifting. She was the face and fake deep voice of that company and she should be spending the rest of her life in prison. I listened to the podcast The Dropout and saw the HBO Documentary The Inventor. That does not make me an expert in this case, but from what I’ve heard she knew exactly what she was doing. I also hope that former Theranos employees are able to testify. I’m sure they have some insight as to how much Holmes knew and how hard she worked to keep it from investors and the public.

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56 Responses to “Will Elizabeth Holmes’s ‘intimate partner abuse’ defense be successful in federal court?”

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  1. Merricat says:

    Lol. Her flat bug-eyes make me so uncomfortable.

    • GrnieWnie says:

      She doesn’t look sane! The terrible makeup, the voice, the dilated pupils…what is going on here??

      • Kaykay says:

        She’s like out of a scary movie. She’s so uncomfortable to watch in the pictures but the movie clip took it to newer heights. Something is definitely up.

    • Lawcatb says:

      Yeah, she has the crazy eyes.

    • minx says:

      Despite the high minded veneer she’s just a scam artist, pure and simple.

    • vesper nite says:

      It’s the lack of blinking for me! Lock her crazy ass up!

      • Kaykay says:

        The lack of blinking AND the fact that her whole iris is showing. Usually it’s partially covered by the eyelid(s).

      • Justjj says:

        Someone mentioned she could be on drugs on another thread-and I never thought about it, but is she? No one’s eyes are that huge and animated and glassy all the time… I don’t know what’s going on here, but yeah, something is so deeply weird

  2. SlipKeenNot says:

    Nightmare fuel thumbnail, I almost choked my coffee!

  3. JRenee says:

    All of the fraud associated with the company and she’s only facing 20 years??

    • Silver says:

      The Fyre festival organiser sociopath got like 5 years and was out within months so doesn’t surprise me

      • Robyn says:

        I don’t know the Fyre details as well, but this is federal and you serve nearly allllllll of your term in the federal system.

  4. Noki says:

    Lol was that deep voice was fake? Why on earth would she want to sound like she has a frog in her throat!?

    • Laura-Lee MacDonald says:

      I’ve read that she most likely wanted to sound more ‘‘authoritative” (read: masculine) when she was schmoozing all the old, white male investors and it stuck. It had to have take a toll on her vocal chords. Which would be more long-lasting consequences than her likely jail term. Le sigh.

      • Rose says:

        Speech pathologist here. It could mess with your vocal folds, but she could have easily hired a speech pathologist to help her modulate her voice. We do it all the time with trans patients going through transition.

        I’ve been told several times in many different areas (professional and personal) from when I tried out to be drum major at my high school to when I ran my first hospital clinic rotation that people will respect a woman with a deeper voice more; that it sounds more commanding and easily heard.

    • Jennifer says:

      I used to get vocal coaching and the coach said that women deepening their voice gets them more respect from men, but also damages their vocal cords.

      Whee.

    • Agreatreckoning says:

      It is. There are videos out there where she sounds much different. Not the obvious ones that are entertaining. I’m guessing she was a fan of Mira Sorvino’s Romy White’s voice. Those unblinking eyes. When people stare like that I feel creeped out-not that they’re interested in what I’m saying.imo

  5. Mac says:

    I find it impossible to believe she didn’t know she was running’s scam.

  6. Izzy says:

    She even got married and had a pandemic baby, likely hoping they wouldn’t send a mother to prison and separate her from her baby.

    Should’ve thought about that before getting knocked up. She deserves more than 20 years but if that’s what she’s up for, I’ll take it.

    • AmelieOriginal says:

      It’s one of the reasons the trial was delayed too I believe. They didn’t want to start the trial while she was pregnant. It probably wouldn’t be a good look to put a pregnant woman on the stand. But she gave birth recently so no reason to delay it anymore. The baby can be raised by its father if she gets convicted.

      • Mariposa says:

        I’m listening to a podcast about her at the moment, and the father sounds like a good match for her – he’s arrogant, materialistic and rich (his family want nothing to do with her). I feel sorry for their child, having two horrible people as parents.

        From what I remember of the book ‘Bad Blood’ – Sonny wasn’t at Thernos at the beginning. She definitely started the ball rolling on the scam and was the one directing it, but from what I recall, she and Sonny were thick as thieves, so he is culpable too.

    • Guildish says:

      Ahhh … the pandemic baby that she will be stopping court proceedings to breastfeed.

      The domestic abuse and caring mother strategy!

  7. Paintergal says:

    Her defense is just another scam.

    • Yup, Me says:

      It’s been the favorite defense of white women for the entirety of US history. It’s no surprise she’s trying it.

      • Justjj says:

        I thought about this too. Sunny is a man of color and she is a white woman. She has to know what she’s doing. They’re both to blame, but that’s messed up!

  8. Chicken says:

    Since 2003? Wasn’t she 19 in 2003?

    • Robyn says:

      Yep. This all started when she dropped out of Stanford very early on. The Dropout podcast is an excellent overview of how *SHE* started this scam (and the one she tried before) long before Sunny was in the picture.

      • hoopjumper says:

        @Robyn Creepily enough, Sunny was in the picture in 2003. They met in 2002 when she was 18. He’s about 20 years older than she is.

        I 100% believe Elizabeth knew what she was doing, and that Theranos was her grift as much or more than it was his, but the fact they got together at that point in her life, plus the age difference, will help her case.

      • Robyn says:

        Whoa. I don’t know how I gapped out on that detail!

    • Izzy says:

      Yes. She dropped out of college and started her business/scam

  9. ItReallyIsYou,NotMe k8 says:

    Federal prosecutors almost always win, but they also plea out the vast majority of their cases before a verdict.

    It also helps the prosecutors that the jury pool tends to be more affluent and white privileged in federal court (and therefore more likely to trust the system instead of having negative experiences with law enforcement and the court system). Federal court pulls its jury pool from rosters of registered voters instead of from drivers license holders. In other words, only registered voters ever get called up for federal juries, but anyone who is licensed to drive could be called for jury duty in state court.

    So I am not so sure Holmes won’t be found innocent. She is an attractive, blue-eyed, slender white woman and an accomplished con artist. the jury will be made up of white affluent people who identify with her (basically the same makeup as the Theranos Board of Trustees that she so thoroughly bamboozled). A skilled lawyer could effectively terrify that jury that the brown man could manipulate and abuse their own white daughters into destroying their self-made businesses.

    • sunny says:

      This 1000%. There was speculation that she would try to get pregnant because as a mother she would read more sympathetic- and when she did get pregnant I laughed. She is such a scammer and her crimes hurt so many but I doubt she will get a harsh punishment.

      • Giddy says:

        I agree completely that she got pregnant as a defense strategy, but unfortunately she now has another victim; her baby. No matter how long of a sentence she is given, her child has a difficult future.

  10. TheRickestRick says:

    I don’t know how she can blame Sunny when he didn’t join Theranos until 2009 and she was BS-ing looooong before that. This woman appears to have sociopathic/narcissistic tendencies and I truly hope she does not get away with this.

    • YazQween says:

      I don’t like the appropriation of “intimate partner abuse”. It’s in the level of claiming racism or homophobia- which are all real and super evil to mis-use.

      • vesper nite says:

        I had the exact same thought! That is such a low down dirty excuse for her blatant grifting. But grifters gonna grift! This narcissist has a kid now…so unfortunate.

  11. thaisajs says:

    She should go to jail longer. The “technology” her company (didn’t) create could have really hurt people.

    • Robyn says:

      It DID hurt people. Incorrect/fraudulent test results were distributed and the machines themselves cut people up and threw blood around.

  12. Lila says:

    “ She was the face and fake deep voice of that company”

    Ahahahahaha! Dead

  13. Louise177 says:

    I don’t see abuse could cause her crimes but I guess anything goes to get out of jail. It always shocks me that white collar crime is so lenient even though hundreds if not thousands of people are affected.

  14. L84Tea says:

    In my opinion, this was Madoff level deceit. She should be spending the rest of her life behind bars.

    • Justjj says:

      Agreed. She was so psychologically abusive to her employees too! She absolutely terrorized them it sounds like. Not to mention the stealing tens of millions thing and exploiting vulnerable patients by playing to their emotions when she knew nothing actually worked.

  15. Mireille says:

    Funny how she claims abuse from Balwani (who I don’t care for either), when both of them perpetrated threats, legal action, bullying, and intimidation to Theranos employees who didn’t tow the line…and much worse to whistleblowers.

    Reading up on the family of the father of her baby and how horrified they are that he married her. They tried to intervene. He’s a trust fund baby very much taken by her. I fear she’s after the family money and now with a baby, even if he can’t afford to financially support the baby, she’s probably hoping the family will care for them. She’s broke, but I don’t see why she doesn’t go to her own family for help and money. As far as I know, they still support her.

  16. MissMarirose says:

    Here’s the flip side of those “amazing” wins for federal prosecutors.

    I just watched a news program about child sex abuse in Indian country and they talked about the fact that very often, the US Attorneys offices who are supposed to prosecute those cases, turn down the vast majority of them. Also, the FBI will often not even submit an investigation to the US Attorneys office for them to make the decision to prosecute. The program talked to one mother who recounted how they did everything right and the FBI even got a confession from the child molester but the US Attorney office refused to prosecute.

    So I wouldn’t be too impressed with the “win” rate of federal prosecutors. It sounds like they cherry pick which criminals to prosecute based on upon whether there is enough evidence to prosecute the case, but whether it will affect their win rate.

    • AMA1977 says:

      That’s the case with most prosecutors’ offices; they dismiss the cases they know are losers outright, and plead down the ones they suspect may be if they can. They don’t have quite the “win” rate of the feds, but the DA’s office in my giant county has a 70%+ win rate and it’s not because they’re so spectacular. Most jurors still skew whiter, wealthier, and more conservative than the general public, and are more likely to respond to a summons. They’re the people who think a cop could never lie, if you’re accused you’re guilty, and defense lawyers are liars. (I’m married to a defense attorney, full disclosure.) Make no mistake, it’s about getting a win, not serving justice.

  17. Lively says:

    I just finished listening to the dropout podcast. And wow there are soo many factors into this story. Her environment enabled her to become who she is. The part about the scientist suicide was heartbreaking.
    Her board of directors, clueless old men.
    Silicon Valley culture of fake it till you make it, sounds like a toxic swamp.

  18. ForWhatItsWorth says:

    You guys…the books about this – BAD BLOOD was EVERYTHING. I knew nothing about her / Theranos but someone in my Bookclub picked this and I could not stop reading/thinking about / taking about this book for months. Highly highly recommend! Fascinating!

    • chai35 says:

      Yes, I know podcasts and documentaries are good, but the book goes into so much detail that it is a must read!

  19. Chanteloup says:

    This “defense” makes me sick. I suffered intimate partner violence and yet never once did it make me run a long scam, hurt other people and grift millions of dollars. She sounds more like an abuser herself: “LOOK WUT YOU MADE ME DO!!!”

  20. HandforthParish says:

    I just bought Bad Blood. I was a slow coach-er on podcasts and only started listening recently- the Dropout was one of my first and honesly it is one of the best I’ve heard. The research is excellent and the presentation superb.
    It is honesly too bizarre for fiction.

  21. ABC says:

    She never blinks in the video, this is one sign of being a sociopath

  22. LillyfromLillooet says:

    1. This makes me sick to see #MeToo used like this. I’m holding a loving thought for actual victims of domestic abuse.

    2. Very sorry to hear in this post that they are actually legally wed. I hope if she goes away he will eventually divorce her. At least his family knows she is truly a nightmare and I am sure they are going to get help in trying to navigate their son’s misguided allegiance to her.

    3. In the best of all worlds, the prosecution will quickly destroy this fabricated idea that she was operating under anyone’s thumb. Once you get past that, it is oh so clear that she is guilty, guilty, guilty.

  23. Digital Unicorn says:

    I hope she rots in jail but man every time I see a picture of her she reminds of that mega crazy Mary Kay woman. Those are the eyes of a hard core unhinged stalker.

  24. Kkat says:

    She, Bezos and Zuckerberg have the same eyes