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How Elizabeth Holmes’ abuse allegations could impact her criminal trial

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But this week, a weeping Holmes sat in the grandstand of witnesses and offered an incredibly different perspective on her time running the business. Behind the scenes, Holmes alleges, was in the middle of a a decade of abusive relationship with the head of operations and president of Theranos, Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, whom he said tried to control almost every aspect of his life.

Holmes ’indictment, which is one of the few witnesses expected to be called to testify by his defense team, was easily the most emotional moment of his five days in the stands to date. Her claim, which Balwani’s lawyers have previously denied, could also complicate the government’s case against her. in the eyes of the jury.

The government alleges that Holmes has misinformed investors, doctors and patients about the capabilities of his company’s blood test technology through a network of alleged money-seeking scams. Holmes faces nine counts of electronic fraud and two counts of conspiracy to commit electronic fraud, and up to 20 years in prison if convicted. She has pleaded not guilty.

His abuse claim may raise new questions for jurors about his intent to deceive, a key factor that the jury of eight men and four women will weigh in determining his fate. In fact, just before the jury selection began, the court revealed documents detailing that Holmes could claim that Balwani had abused him as evidence “that he had no intention of deceiving.” (Possible jurors were also previously asked if they had any experience with abuse or interpersonal violence in an effort to eliminate those who might be biased).

“Can do [jurors] Guess if he was intentionally committing fraud, “said Laurie Levenson, a law professor at Loyola Law School and a former federal prosecutor. Some jurors, however, may be skeptical of her testimony.” and how opportunistic it is that he will say what the moment requires him to say. “

“It’s a little blurry what the trial is about”

Holmes first met Balwani after graduating from high school when she was only 18 and he was 38. Holmes later dropped out of his sophomore year at Stanford to start a business, a decision that she testified was partly because she had been raped while in school. . When he chose to start a business, he said he sought business advice from Balwani. Then the relationship became romantic.

As she struggled to tears, she testified that Balwani’s control over her ranged from forcing her to have sex with him to prescribing an incredibly restrictive lifestyle. He allegedly disciplined his diet, his voice, and his image. He also allegedly isolated her from others.

“Sunny would be very angry if she was with my family because she said it was a distraction for the business,” he said Monday.

In particular, Holmes testified that Balwani did not control his interactions with investors, journalists, retail executives, or board members. Rather, he stated, “it all impacted on who I was, and I don’t quite understand that.”

Balwani, who was indicted along with Holmes and will face the same charges when he begins his trial next year, has also pleaded not guilty. His trial was suspended after Holmes said he could testify that he was a victim of the couple’s abuse.

According to Dr. Evan Stark, a forensic social worker, the nature of the relationship Holmes has claimed has the hallmarks of what is known as “coercive control,” which is also the title of a book by Stark. The term refers to a pattern of abusive behavior that deprives a person of their liberty.

Stark has consulted cases (though not the Holmes case) with the clinical psychologist, Dr. Mindy Mechanic, whom the defense indicated could call for him to testify as an expert on the Holmes trial. Mechanic, whose work focuses on the psychosocial consequences of violence, trauma and victimization, assessed Holmes for 14 hours and also conducted interviews with his relatives, according to pre-trial documents. “Expert testimony will be useful and appropriate to educate the jury on the reasons for Mrs Holmes’ belief, deference and confidence in Mr Balwani, ”the defense wrote in a court document. (The government was also able to get an expert to evaluate Holmes.)

Stark said Holmes’ abuse testimony is ultimately an appeal to the jury. “A question arises in the mind of the jury as to whether or not he was fully responsible for the activities.”

Dr. Ziv Cohen, a forensic psychiatrist and assistant professor at Weill Cornell Medical College, said. it could also be effective “because it blurs what the trial is about.”

Jessica Roth, a professor at Cardozo Law School and a former federal prosecutor, echoed the point. “Both could be true: that she had an abusive relationship as she alleges, and that she is guilty of the charges. I don’t think the government has to deny its allegations in order for it to prevail in court.”

Trying to make holes after a bomb witness

At the very least, the accusation of abuse may complicate the cross-examination of the Holmes prosecution by introducing sensitivities.

In interrogating Holmes On Tuesday, U.S. Deputy Attorney Robert Leach tried to contrast Balwani’s alleged control over his life with his power in the company he founded, ran, and had a 51 percent stake in.

“Was he an employee at will?” Leach asked. “It was,” Holmes testified. “Okay. Could you fire him at any time?” Leach continued. “I could,” Holmes replied.

Elizabeth Holmes testifies that she contacted Rupert Murdoch to try to kill a convicting story in the Wall Street Journal

Leach tried to discredit Holmes by pointing out that his justification for his separation from Balwani was different from the previous testimony given to the Securities and Exchange Commission. He told the SEC that their relationship with Balwani lost its romantic brilliance sometime after they began working together. He did not mention, as he stated on Monday, that his view of Balwani changed after learning of the findings of a regulatory inspection of Theranos’ lab.

Leach also tried to establish that she herself was able to end the relationship, without seeing any mental health professionals.

The discomfort of the prosecution’s interrogation became palpable on Tuesday when Leach asked Holmes to read aloud his private messages to Balwani to prove that their relationship was “sometimes loving and sometimes not so loving.” As he did so, Holmes, for the second day in a row, got excited in the stands.

Stark said that if the intent is to use text messages to discredit the nature of the relationship, Dr. Mechanic will “shatter that argument” if the defense calls her to testify. “There’s nothing inconsistent between loved ones that hurts you,” Stark said.

Levenson, the former federal prosecutor, said the government must “be careful not to cross the line to enter a trial on whether she was abused and keep the case focused on whether, despite her personal life, she was still consciously making false statements. “

Leach also asked Holmes if she was “involved in another romantic relationship during the time period from 2010 to 2015.” Holmes, who lived with Balwani from 2005 to 2016, initially stated “no,” in apparent confusion over the dates. He later confirmed that he was in another in early 2010, but “it wasn’t really a formal relationship.”

The relevance of the question was not explained by Leach. But according to Cohen, it may be an attempt to show the ways in which Holmes seemed to have agency. “If she was an abuser and a driver, that wouldn’t fit in with her going out with someone else. It’s awkward, but the prosecution really has to make holes.”

Leach’s cross-examination of Holmes will resume on Tuesday.

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