SAN JOSE, Calif. (KRON) — Opening statements were set to begin Wednesday for the trial of Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, Elizabeth Holmes’ ex-boyfriend and former COO of Theranos.
However, one of the jurors may have been exposed to COVID-19 and the judge pushed opening statements back until Friday. Six women and six men were sworn in by the judge.
Balwani is facing the same 12 counts of fraud and conspiracy that Holmes was put on trial for, in the same courthouse in San Jose, with the same judge. Balwani’s hopes for a better fate than Holmes will come down to a new jury.
In January, a different jury found Holmes guilty on four counts of lying to investors about Theranos blood testing technology. Investors poured millions of dollars into Theranos based on lies pitched by Holmes as CEO.
Now it’s Balwani’s turn to defend himself in court as federal prosecutors accused him of being Holmes’ co-conspirator at their blood testing company.
Holmes was a high-profile Silicon Valley superstar before whistleblowers and investigators discovered her blood testing machines gave false results to patients. Balwani operated much more behind the scenes at Theranos, and many employees described him as a bully.
When Balwani was ranked No. 2 at Theranos, he was also Holmes’ secret boyfriend.
During her trial, Holmes accused Balwani of verbal and sexual abuse, and blamed him for what went wrong at Theranos. She tearfully testified that Balwani controlled and manipulated her during their relationship, essentially controlling her life.
In court documents, Balwani firmly denied the abuse allegations.
Jury selection for Balwani’s trial took several days. Many prospective jurors were eliminated for knowing too much about Holmes’ trial from media coverage.
KRON4 interview one woman who was not picked for the jury after she told Balwani’s attorneys that she was vaguely aware of Holmes’ abuse allegations.
Gabriela Villasenor of Salinas was cut from the jury pool on Friday.
“His attorney wanted to ask us further questions on that privately so that other potential jurors didn’t hear our answers and influence them. I told him that I had heard Elizabeth Holmes accused him of abuse,” Villasenor said.
“Honestly I didn’t follow Elizabeth Holmes’ case. I knew the nuts and bolts of it. But the exact allegations I did not know. His attorney asked, ‘Would you label him a woman abuser if you were a juror selected?’ I said, ‘no because I don’t know the circumstances,'” Villasenor said.
Jurors were given a list of potential witnesses who may testify, and Holmes was included on the list, Villasenor said. Holmes has a big incentive to testify for the prosecution because cooperating could help lower her own prison sentence.
Holmes is facing up to 20 years in prison when she is sentenced by U.S. District Judge Edward Davila in September. For now, she remains out of custody. Holmes is living with her baby and partner, Billy Evans, on a private estate in Woodside.
Holmes and Balwani claimed Theranos’ breakthrough technology could scan for hundreds of health problems using just a few drops of blood taken from a patient’s finger prick. Patients who testified against Holmes included a woman who was told, based on her blood test results, she had suffered a miscarriage. Months later, she gave birth to a healthy baby.
For Holmes’ trial, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Bostic told the jury, “What was the darker truth at Theranos? The evidence at trial demonstrated there were very serious problems with Theranos technology. It didn’t take hindsight to see those problems. The facts, the truth, were fatal to Theranos. And Elizabeth Holmes knew that,” Bostic said.
“She turned to breaking the law. She committed these crimes because she was desperate for this company to succeed. That was her motive,” Bostic said.
Prosecutors will outline Balwani’s alleged motive for committing fraud during opening statements, starting Friday.