SAN JOSE, Calif. (KRON) — Elizabeth Holmes broke down in tears while testifying at her criminal fraud trial inside a federal courtroom this week.
The former Silicon Valley CEO told the jury about emotional and sexual abuse she allegedly endured from Sunny Balwani.
Balwani is Holmes’ ex-boyfriend and the former COO of Holmes’ biotech company, Theranos. They are both charged with fraud and conspiracy.
As far as what went wrong at Theranos, Holmes threw the blame on Balwani in-part by claiming he controlled her life.
Prosecutors said as Holmes lied and faked her way into Silicon Valley stardom, she was very much in control and in charge.
Holmes was once America’s youngest self-made billionaire.
While she was the face and CEO of Theranos, her secret boyfriend was controlling her behind the scenes, Holmes testified.
She testified that Balwani dictated every minute of her day. Holmes cried when she told the jury about how Balwani allegedly forced her to have sex with him.
Balwani is 20 years older than Holmes. He met her when she was an 18-year-old Stanford University student, one year before she founded her blood testing startup company.
During their 11-year relationship, Holmes testified that Balwani would get very angry with her, and constantly criticized her. She said he told her, “If you follow your instincts, you will fail.”
For most of the three-month-long trial, her defense attorneys painted Holmes as a naïve, young CEO who went on a quest to revolutionize healthcare and failed.
“Failure is not a crime,” Defense attorney Lance Wade said.
Holmes’ domestic abuse allegations against Balwani add a second layer to her defense.
Wade said, “Trusting and relying on Mr. Balwani as her primary advisor was one of her mistakes.”
What’s unknown at this point is whether the jury believes Holmes. A long list of witnesses brought in by prosecutors have already testified that Holmes was the person calling the shots at Theranos.
On Tuesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Leach reminded the jury that Holmes was CEO of Theranos, not Balwani.
“He reported directly to you, correct?” Leach asked.
“Yes,” she said.
“He was the COO and you were the CEO. You could fire him at any time?” Leach asked.
“I could,” Holmes said.
Leach made Holmes read out-loud private text messages she exchanged with Balwani when their company came under fire in 2015.
Following a contentious meeting with unhappy Theranos board members, Balwani texted Holmes, “It breaks my heart to see you like this. I can leave if that gives you emotional peace.”
“We need to commit to each other so we can get out of this hell and live in paradise,” Balwani wrote to Holmes. “I worked for six years day and night to help you. I thought it would be better. I know you were angry in your way and upset with me for not doing everything you wanted me to do.”
Holmes testified that Balwani left Theranos in 2016 because she wanted him out.
“In 2016, you pushed Mr. Balwani out of the company?” Leach asked.
“I asked him to leave,” Holmes replied.
After the jury was dismissed from the courtroom late Tuesday afternnon, a prosecutor told the judge, “We have not heard from Mr. Balwani, his side of the story. In his text messages, he expressed a lot of love and devotion.”
“It was a complex relationship,” judge Edward Davila said.
Balwani’s attorney stood up and said his client will plead the fifth if he is called to testify for Holmes’ trial.
Balwani will be put on trial separately next year.
Holmes is now married to Billy Evans. He escorts her to and from the courthouse daily holding her hand.