Elizabeth Holmes trial begins as both sides grill potential jurors

Elizabeth Holmes trial begins as both sides grill potential jurors

Elizabeth Holmes, founder and former CEO of blood testing and life sciences company Theranos, attends the first day of jury selection in her Federal Court fraud trial on August 31, 2021 in San Jose, California.

Nick Otto | AFP | Getty Images

Theranos isn’t exactly a household word, but several potential jurors interviewed on Tuesday heard about the company or its former CEO Elizabeth Holmes on the first day of its criminal fraud case.

In seven hours, around 40 potential jurors were interviewed and 14 were fired. “I have no prejudices except that I remember the accused’s penchant for turtlenecks,” said one of them.

Another jury member, who admitted to seeing a “60 minutes” documentary on Theranos, said: “I’m glad I didn’t invest in it.”

Holmes, who looked serious, wore a black dress and jacket with a blue mask. He attempted to make eye contact with each potential jury member as he entered the courtroom.

Elizabeth Holmes in court

Source: Vicki Behringer

A potential juror, who said he read John Carrero’s book “Bad Blood” on the Theranos scandal, works for a healthcare company. After reading the book, she confessed to the judge that she was “somewhat disappointed”.

“It’s not that a lot of women become CEOs of a big power corporation,” she said.

Prosecutors and defense lawyers are trying to find a dozen impartial jurors and five alternatives in what is expected to be a 13-week trial. Holmes and Sunny Balwani, her former business partner and boyfriend for a time, each face 10 counts of wire fraud and two counts of conspiracy. Both have pleaded not guilty. Balwani will be judged separately.

Several would-be jurors have said they have read books, watched documentaries, or listened to TED talks and podcasts on the subject. U.S. District Court Judge Edward Davila has suggested that would-be jurors turn off informational alerts to avoid further media exposure.

A potential juror revealed he was a news producer on a radio station, which he said contained high-profile case stories.

“I avoid the subject at work, but they publish articles in anticipation of jury selection,” he said. “I don’t really know how I can stay righteous for the rest of the trial.”

“I look at my computer and all I see is: Theranos, Theranos, Theranos,” he said.

Davila jokingly said, “Sir, I won’t ask you to quit your job” and later asked him, “Will it break your heart if I apologize to this jury? “

The judge also asked potential jurors if they or someone they knew had experienced intimate partner violence. Five potential jurors raised their hands. Unsealed documents from Bombshell Court showed on Saturday that Holmes, 37, planned to press charges of mental, emotional and sexual abuse against Balwani, 56. In the sealed dossier, Balwani categorically denies the allegations.

“The hardest thing for prosecutors to prove here is that the more empathetic and emotionally objectionable potential jurors are, the more defenses want them and prosecutors will want to get rid of them,” said James McGarrity, jury consultant and partner at R&D. Strategic solutions. “She really needs nice people.”

Another potential juror told defense attorneys he left a negative comment on Facebook about the Theranos shutdown. “I followed the company because I was interested in it,” he recalls. “I was disappointed because I thought the company was great,” he said. “It was disappointing.”

Jury selection is expected to last two days, with opening statements scheduled to begin on September 8.

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