Elizabeth Holmes testified Monday, flushing and holding back tears, that she left Stanford to start Theranos in part because she had been raped, and that she later engaged into an abusive relationship with the person who would become the company’s chief operating officer.
During her fourth day on the stand in her criminal fraud trial, Holmes said she had been sexually assaulted in college and had quit attending school as a result. Instead, Holmes said she departed to focus on growing her business.
“I was questioning what — how I was going to be able to process that experience and what I wanted to do with my life, and I decided that I was going to build a life by building this company,” she said.
Holmes testified that she later established a professional relationship with Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, a former software executive who would ultimately become the COO of Theranos while they dated. She met him in China after graduating from high school, when she was 18 and he was 38 years old. “He claimed that I was secure now that I had met him,” she said later when she told him about the trauma of her rape at Stanford.
Holmes went on to describe how Balwani both taught and controlled her, criticising everything from her meeting tone to her being “too feminine” and acting “like a young girl.
“He told me that I didn’t know what I was doing in business, that my convictions were wrong, that he was astonished at my mediocrity,” she said, adding that he told her that “I needed to kill the person I was” to become successful.
Balwani would often “become extremely furious with me, and then he would come upstairs to our bedroom and compel me to have sex with him when I didn’t want to, because he would say that he wanted me to know that he still loved me,” according to Holmes.
Holmes’ legal team hinted in court records made public before of the trial that the former Theranos CEO would defend herself by alleging she was the victim of a decade-long violent relationship with Balwani. Those charges have been refuted by Balwani’s lawyers.
Through her own words, Holmes’ testimony could provide jurors with insight into her state of mind at the time of the alleged deception. One of the most challenging aspects of fraud cases, according to legal experts, is demonstrating intent.