SAN JOSE—Capping off a second day of closing arguments, Elizabeth Holmes’ defense attorney said Friday that the 37-year-old fallen tech starlet gave up her youth, her friends, her family and her education in order to create novel medical technology she believed could change the world.
In his sensational closing of the high-profile criminal lawsuit in San Jose, defense attorney Kevin Downey said Holmes—whose company once touted the ability to perform scores of blood tests with just a prick of blood—stood by while the enterprise collapsed instead of attempting to flee.
“At the first sign of trouble, crooks cash out, criminals cover up, and rats flee a sinking ship,” Downey said. “Did she take her money and get out? No, she stayed. She went down with that ship. That's who that woman is.”
The argument fits a recurring narrative from Holmes’ lawyers that she was a strong, honest person who tried to do the right thing despite working alongside an abusive boyfriend and listening to subordinates who did not fully disclose the error reports in her medical devices.
Holmes is accused of perpetrating an audacious fraud against investors, the media, and the public. The federal panel has now retired to deliberate after two days of closing arguments in the lengthy trial.
Holmes founded Theranos in 2003 at age 19 after dropping out of Stanford and convincing investors to funnel in more than $700 million for diagnostic devices made to reduce anxiety around drawing large amounts of blood. But the company found itself in hot water 12 years later, when questions began to emerge as some pointed out that Theranos had not been peer reviewed and allegations were made that the company’s devices’ screening data could not be trusted.
Theranos closed in 2018, with Holmes’ net worth going from an estimated $4.5 billion to nothing. She still believes in her inventions, her defense attorney argued during his closing.
“Ms. Holmes was very devoted to her mission,” he said Friday.
Holmes arrived just after 8 a.m. Friday in typical locked-hand formation with her mom, dad, and husband, hotel heir William “Billy” Evans. She made her way silently past a throng of reporters and onlookers toward a security checkpoint, wearing a charcoal blazer, white blouse and light blue mask. Evans stood back and made small talk with someone in line while the family walked through metal detectors.
Downey, who was continuing his closing from the previous day, went deep into the weeds Friday, refuting many claims laid out by assistant U.S. Attorney Jeff Schenk. He said investors weren’t duped, as prosecutors have argued, and that they knew Theranos technology was risky.
“They knew this was a new venture, they knew it was speculative, and they knew it involved substantial risk,” Downey said.
He also combated testimony from a patient who had a false-positive prostate cancer result, another who was told they had HIV when they didn’t, and a third whose test said they miscarried when they hadn’t.
Downey said these were only three examples amid 8 million tests performed and that the HIV result did not even come from Theranos device. He questioned how damning the outcomes from the other two tests really were.
“Remember, the charge here is Ms. Holmes intentionally defrauded people in suggesting Theranos tests were accurate or reliable,” Downey said, adding later, “When you have a pool of millions of tests, it’s hard to see how these three instances prove that kind of knowledge on her behalf.”
The former tech wunderkind faces 11 counts of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. If convicted, she could get up to 20 years behind bars. Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, who was once Theranos president and Holmes' boyfriend, will have a separate fraud trial beginning in January. Holmes accused Balwani of sexual abuse while testifying during her trial, something Downey did not address in his closing. But on rebuttal, assistant U.S. Attorney John Bostic reminded jurors that Holmes denied Balwani had controlled her actions at the company or made her lie.
On Holmes, Bostic said, “We see a CEO of a company that was so desperate to succeed, so afraid of failing.”
“The disease that plagued Theranos wasn't a lack of effort, it was a lack of honesty,” he said.
He wrapped his rebuttal at the end of day Friday, leaving the case for jurors to return with a verdict that's expected next week.