Startups

Elizabeth Holmes resumes her testimony in her fraud trial. – The New York Times


[Follow live news coverage on the trial of Elizabeth Holmes.]

The high-stakes trial of Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of the collapsed medical start-up Theranos, is headed toward a dramatic finish. The latest twist came on Friday, when Ms. Holmes unexpectedly took the stand in her own defense, after the prosecution rested its case.

She testified for an hour, and is continuing now. Ms. Holmes has been charged with 11 counts of fraud and faces up to 20 years in prison on each count. She has pleaded not guilty.

Whether Ms. Holmes would testify had been one of the biggest questions of the trial. Up until Friday afternoon, many legal experts predicted that she would not. The benefits of doing so, the experts argued, could be offset by the risks of cross-examination.

At first, her testimony raised concerns for her defense. Her lawyers’ strategy has been to paint her as inexperienced, led astray by others like her former boyfriend and business partner Sunny Balwani (who is being tried separately).

But on the stand, Ms. Holmes depicted herself as very much in control. She presented herself as an expert in the technology Theranos was developing and detailed how she used that knowledge to attract investors, whose money would eventually be wiped out.

She also rebutted a key argument by prosecutors. The prosecution sought to establish that Ms. Holmes withheld information, particularly financial reports, from investors.

On the stand, Holmes detailed the “very comprehensive diligence process” of Don Lucas, a venture capitalist who eventually invested in Theranos and became its chairman. The defense presented a 2006 email in which Ms. Holmes sent Mr. Lucas detailed financial information. (However, this may undermine another defense argument: that investors were careless and at least partially to blame.)

The trial is also a referendum on Silicon Valley’s start-up culture. If Ms. Holmes is found guilty, it would put truth-stretching start-up founders on notice. But if she is acquitted, it would bolster the tech industry’s “fake it til you make it” approach.

“A non-guilty verdict will vindicate a Silicon Valley culture of celebrating aggressive innovation at the expense of the complete and whole truth,” said Jeffrey Cohen of Boston College Law School.



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