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Elizabeth Holmes’s Theranos Trial: What You Need to Know


Few things have captured the public’s imagination in recent years like the saga of Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of the defunct blood-testing company Theranos.

The downfall of Holmes, a Stanford dropout and Silicon Valley darling, spawned not only wall-to-wall news coverage, but also a documentary, a book, a podcast and even a mini-series based on that podcast. Her tale offers something for everyone: clueless bigwig investors, wild false promises, black turtlenecks and — let’s be real — more than a small dose of schadenfreude.

This morning, the drama is set to continue with opening statements in Holmes’s trial in federal court in San Jose, my colleague Erin Griffith reports. Holmes has pleaded not guilty and would face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Here’s what you need to know:

Holmes started Theranos in 2003, when she was 19. The company was based in Palo Alto and promised to revolutionize health care by detecting diseases using a single drop of blood from a finger prick. At one point, it was valued at $9 billion.

But Holmes’s empire came tumbling down after a Wall Street Journal investigation in 2015 raised questions about whether Theranos’s technology actually worked. (It didn’t.)

In 2018, Theranos was dissolved. That same year, Holmes and Theranos’s former president, Ramesh Balwani, were indicted on charges of defrauding investors out of millions of dollars as well as deceiving hundreds of patients and doctors.

Holmes has been charged with 12 counts of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. She has been accused of knowing that Theranos blood tests were unreliable, of harming patients who relied on them and of overstating the company’s business deals and performance.

The jury consists of seven men and five women who live in Northern California. There are also five alternates.

The group was selected last week from a pool of 200 potential jurors. As you can imagine, finding people who had never heard of Theranos posed a challenge.

Though Holmes and Balwani were indicted together, a judge last year agreed to try them separately, my colleagues Erin Griffith and Erin Woo report. Balwani’s trial will begin early next year.

The move to separate their cases allows the pair to blame each other with no ability for the other to respond, legal experts say.

Holmes’s lawyers have indicated that she is likely to argue that she was abused and controlled by Balwani, her business partner whom she also dated. In sealed court filings made public last month, Holmes said her relationship with Balwani had a “pattern of abuse and coercive control.”

Holmes’s lawyers could argue that she didn’t know about the problems with Theranos’s blood-testing devices and was merely the start-up’s public face, while Balwani and others handled the technology.


As my colleagues wrote, “The central question will be whether Ms. Holmes was a deceptive schemer driven by greed and power, or a naïf who believed her own lies and was manipulated by Mr. Balwani.”

Patients who were wrongly diagnosed by Theranos tests are set to testify against Holmes, including some who had been told they were H.I.V. positive and a pregnant woman who was told she had miscarried, reported NPR.

The potential witness list names Holmes herself as well as 200 others, including:

  • John Carreyrou, a former Wall Street Journal reporter who broke the Theranos story

  • Rupert Murdoch, a media mogul who invested in the start-up

  • David Boies, a former Theranos lawyer

  • Henry Kissinger, a former secretary of state who sat on Theranos’s board

  • Jim Mattis, a former defense secretary who was also on Theranos’s board

As far as we know, the trial won’t be streamed online. The audience will be limited to people in the courthouse.

But The Times will be publishing regular updates and you can follow along on Twitter with Erin Griffith (@eringriffith) and Erin Woo (@erinkwoo), Times reporters who will be in the courthouse over the next several weeks.

For more:

The election to decide whether to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom is in less than a week. I’ll be keeping you updated with the latest in the newsletter every day.

The Times’s Travel section recommends 36 hours in Santa Barbara County, a place that “could be a commercial for the California good life.”

Hundreds of swimmers dove into 65-degree water on Monday during the annual Oceanside Pier Swim, a Labor Day tradition in San Diego County.

The race, which was canceled last year because of the pandemic, drew at least 400 competitors, the most in its 92-year history, reports The San Diego Union-Tribune.

The first person to complete the one-mile course around the Oceanside pier this year was Miko Baron, 15.

“The water was a bit chilly,” Baron told the newspaper, as she drip-dried in a yellow bathing suit. “I think that made me go faster because I wanted to get out of the water quickly.”

Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Soumya

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Word after second, Sunday or Seattle’s (4 letters).

Steven Moity and Briana Scalia contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at

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