Elizabeth Holmes trial starts as both sides grill potential jurors

Elizabeth Holmes, the founder and former CEO of blood testing and life science company Theranos, arrives on August 31, 2021 for the first day of jury selection in her federal fraud trial in San Jose, California.

Nick Otto | AFP | Getty Images

Theranos is not exactly a household name, but many of the potential jurors interviewed on Tuesday had heard of the company or its former CEO Elizabeth Holmes on the first day of their criminal fraud case.

Nearly 40 potential jurors were interviewed for seven hours and 14 were dismissed. One said, “I have no bias other than remembering the defendant’s preference for turtlenecks.”

Another judge who admitted seeing a “60 Minutes” documentary on Theranos said, “I’m just glad I didn’t invest.”

Holmes, who looked solemn, wore a black dress and a jacket with a blue mask. She tried to make eye contact with every potential juror as they entered the courtroom.

Elizabeth Holmes in court

Source: Vicki Behringer

A prospective judge who said she read John Carreyrou’s book Bad Blood, about the Theranos scandal, works for a healthcare company. She admitted to the judge that “there was some disappointment” after reading the book.

“There aren’t many women who become CEOs of a high-profile company,” she said.

Prosecutors and defense lawyers are trying to find a dozen impartial jurors and five deputies for a trial that is expected to last 13 weeks. Holmes and Sunny Balwani, her former business partner and at times her boyfriend, face ten wire fraud charges and two conspiracies. Neither of them pleaded guilty. Balwani is tried separately.

Several potential jurors said they read books, watched documentaries, or heard TED talks and podcasts on the subject. U.S. District Court judge Edward Davila suggested that potential jurors should disable news alerts to avoid further media exposure.

A prospective judge announced that he is a news producer on a radio station that he said had published stories about the high profile case.

“I avoided the topic at work, but in anticipation of the jury selection, they told stories,” he said. “I’m not really sure how to stay open-minded for the rest of the process.”

“I look at my computer and see only: Theranos, Theranos, Theranos,” he added.

Davila joked, “I’m not going to ask you to quit your job, sir,” and later asked, “Would it break your heart if I excused you from this jury?”

The judge also asked potential jurors if they or anyone they knew had experienced intimate partner violence. Five potential jurors raised their hands. Bomb court documents unsealed on Saturday show Holmes, 37, plans to have mentally, emotionally and sexually abused Balwani, 56. In the unsealed files, Balwani unequivocally denies the allegations.

“The hardest thing for prosecutors to prove here will be intent. The more personable and emotional the potential juror, the more the defense will want them and the prosecution will want to get rid of them, ”said James McGarity, jury advisor and partner at R&D Strategic Solutions. “She really needs the likeable people.”

Another potential juror told defense lawyers that he left a negative comment on Facebook when Theranos closed. “I followed the company because I was interested,” he recalls. “I was disappointed because I thought the company was so cool,” he said. “It was disappointing.”

The selection of the jury is expected to take two days, with the opening statements scheduled for September 8th.

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