Elizabeth Holmes claims abuse by ex-boyfriend who controlled what she ate in Theranos fraud trial defence

Company’s former president accused of ‘essentially dominating her and erasing her capacity to make decisions’.

Justin Vallejo
New York
Monday 30 August 2021 22:20
The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley - trailer

Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes has accused her former lover and business partner of coercion and control in court documents filed before the start of her trial this week on fraud charges.

The newly unsealed court documents revealed Ms Holmes defence claims of "intimate partner abuse" at the hands of the startup’s former president Ramesh "Sunny" Balwani, who is alleged to have impaired her state of mind through a decade of emotional and sexual abuse.

The documents show that Ms Holmes will describe how Mr Balwani controlled what she ate and drank, how she dressed, and who she spoke to, while also alleging he threw "sharp" objects at her.

Jury selection is scheduled to begin on Tuesday 31 August for the high-profile trial, in which Homles is expected to "likely" testify in defence of 12 fraud-related charges that carry up to 20 years in prison and $250,000 in fines.

Ms Holmes was a Silicon Valley celebrity for her blood-testing company that promised to revolutionize the medical industry but was ultimately revealed as an "elaborate, years-long fraud", according to the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

The discovery came after The Wall Street Journal’s John Carreyrou published a report in 2015 that the blood-testing machines were faulty.

The latest filings, first reported by NPR, were unsealed after Dow Jones, owner of The Wall Street Journal, petitioned the court to make the documents public.

Ms Holmes’ lawyers said she would not mount an insanity defence but would demonstrate a "defence of a mental condition bearing on guilt" as a result of partner abuse on her state of mind.

They plan to call psychologist Mindy Mechanic as an expert witness after she evaluated Ms Holmes and detailed her research into sexual violence and domestic abuse, which was redacted from the unsealed filing.

Mr Balwani denied the allegations in the documents through lawyer Jeffrey Coopersmith, who said the claims were deeply offensive and devastating personally to Mr Balwani.

"Ms Holmes’s evidence seeking to establish her innocence would require him to defend against not only the government’s case, but to defend against her allegations as well because her allegations are so inflammatory that they cannot be left unrebutted before the jury," Mr Coopersmith said.

The unsealed documents date back to December 2020 as defence lawyers and prosecutors argued over the separation of their two cases into two separate trials. Mr Balwani faces his fraud trial later this year.

In a February filing, Mr Balwani’s lawyers noted he would not receive a fair trial if their cases were joined due to Ms Holme’s defence strategy.

"Ms Holmes plans to introduce evidence that Mr Balwani verbally disparaged her and withdrew ‘affection if she displeased him’; controlled what she ate, how she dressed, how much money she could spend, who she could interact with — essentially dominating her and erasing her capacity to make decisions,” the document said.