Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of blood-testing startup Theranos, plans to defend herself at her federal fraud trial starting next week by arguing that her ex-boyfriend, who was an executive at the company, emotionally and sexually abused her, impairing her state of mind at the time of the alleged crimes, according to newly unsealed legal filings in her case.
In documents released early Saturday, Holmes’ legal strategy was for the first time outlined by lawyers involved in the case: She plans on pinning the blame on Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, her former boyfriend and onetime top Theranos executive who has also been charged in a separate fraud trial set to take place next year.
Holmes is “likely” to take the stand and testify at her trial, according to her attorneys in the submissions to the court.
The bombshell revelations come on the eve of the trial of Holmes, who stands accused of defrauding patients and investors in operating Theranos, a much-hyped company that promised to revolutionize laboratory science and attracted hundreds of millions of dollars of investment only to implode when journalists and government regulators closely examined the firm’s exaggerated claims.
The new court papers disclose the degree to which Holmes intends on arguing that Balwani allegedly controlled, manipulated and abused Holmes.
According to a filing, Holmes at trial will describe how Balwani controlled how she ate, how she dressed and with whom she spoke.
Holmes intends to say that Balwani monitored her calls, text message and emails and that he was physically violent, throwing “hard, sharp objects” at her.
The filing also indicated that Holmes planned to reveal sexual abuse allegedly perpetuated by Balwani.
“This pattern of abuse and coercive control continued over the approximately decade-long duration of Ms. Holmes and Mr. Balwani’s relationship, including during the period of the charged conspiracies,” wrote lawyers for Elizabeth Holmes in a filing.
Holmes’ lawyers intend to call as a witness a psychologist, Mindy Mechanic, an expert in intimate partner abuse, who evaluated Holmes for 14 hours. While her report details research about sexual violence and domestic abuse, specifics about her evaluation of Holmes were redacted.
In the filings, Balwani’s lawyer Jeffrey Coopersmith called Holmes’ allegations “salacious and inflammatory.”
“Ms. Holmes’ allegations are deeply offensive to Mr. Balwani, devastating personally to him,” Coopersmith wrote.
As a result of the alleged abuse, Holmes plans to argue that she suffers from mental health conditions, including intimate partner abuse syndrome and posttraumatic stress disorder.
The abuse and manipulation Holmes plans on accusing Balwani of relates to the fraud charges, according the filings, since she is expected to argue it was equivalent to “dominating her and erasing her capacity to make decisions,” including her ability to “deceive her victims.”
Holmes will not be presenting an insanity defense, according to her lawyers in the new documents.
Instead, Holmes’ legal team wrote that she will be demonstrating a “defense of a mental condition bearing on guilt” that was the result of partner abuse and that impacted her “state of mind” at the time of the alleged crimes.
Jury selection in Holmes’ trial begins on Tuesday in what is expected to be a months-long trial taking place in San Jose. One major question going into the proceeding has been whether Holmes, who has become known for wearing a black turtleneck and speaking in an unusually deep voice, will testify under oath.
In the filings unsealed on Saturday, Holmes’ legal team wrote that she is expected to take the witness stand and address the jury herself.
“Ms. Holmes is likely to testify herself to the reasons why she believed, relied on, and deferred to Mr. Balwani,” her lawyers wrote.
The newly released filings were unsealed by the federal judge presiding over Holmes’ case after Dow Jones, the publisher of the Wall Street Journal, petitioned the court to make the documents public.