The Elizabeth Holmes trial: Theranos founder takes the stand

Elizabeth Holmes founded Theranos in 2003

Elizabeth Holmes took the witness stand Friday afternoon to defend herself against criminal-fraud charges tied to the failure of Theranos Inc., the startup she founded as a 19-year-old college dropout.

Ms. Holmes, who appeared composed and smiled at times, opened her testimony discussing her vision as a college freshman for changing healthcare and early successes at Theranos, which she founded in 2003 after dropping out of Stanford University.

Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes leaves the Robert F. Peckham Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in San Jose, Calif., on Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021. Holmes is charged with two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and nine counts of wire fraud (Jane Tyska/Digital First Media/The Mercury News via Getty Images / Getty Images)

"We worked for years with teams of scientists and engineers to miniaturize all the technologies in the laboratory," Ms. Holmes testified. Theranos had a breakthrough in 2009 and 2010 when Ms. Holmes and her team realized they could run tests on very small samples of blood, she said.


Ms. Holmes’s testimony came hours after prosecutors said they completed their case against her, handing off to defense attorneys. After testimony from two other defense witnesses—a paralegal and a former Theranos board member—Ms. Holmes took her turn on the witness stand about an hour before court was scheduled to come to a close for the day.

Theranos founder and former CEO Elizabeth Holmes (L) walks with her mother Noel Holmes as they arrive for Elizabeth Holmes's trial at the Robert F. Peckham Federal Building on November 17, 2021 in San Jose, California. Holmes is facing charges of con (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images / Getty Images)

The defense is aiming to offer a fresh narrative about Ms. Holmes, whose story as a 19-year-old Stanford University dropout and founder of Theranos has been the fodder for a popular book, a movie and podcasts.

Ms. Holmes began telling jurors about her early days at Stanford University. She discussed coming up with the idea for her first patent application, for a patch or pill that could administer medicine in real time.


By the time she started her sophomore year, she was working on her idea almost full time rather than going to her classes. That contributed in part to her decision to drop out, she said.

Ms. Holmes spoke about her mentor at Stanford, Channing Robertson, who was skeptical of her idea at first but ultimately supported her and became the company’s first board member.

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 28: Former Theranos founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes arrives at the Robert F. Peckham U.S. Federal Court on June 28, 2019 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images / Getty Images)

By 2004, she was exploring how her ideas could benefit pharmaceutical companies.

"I met with everyone I could who knew someone in pharma or who was in pharma to understand what they did and what they would be interested in," she said.

The first defense witness, Trent Middleton, a paralegal at the law firm representing Ms. Holmes, spent about an hour on the stand, explaining a parade of spreadsheets and documents that illustrated Theranos’s operational and financial history. One spreadsheet had 311 columns of numbers.

The defense also called former Theranos board member Fabrizio Bonanni. His testimony will show Ms. Holmes made earnest efforts to fix problems, her attorneys told the court, and that Theranos had made progress with its blood-testing technology that the prosecution didn’t acknowledge.


Over 11 weeks of testimony, prosecutors called 29 witnesses who painted a picture of Theranos as a company that failed to fulfill the promise of its finger-prick blood-testing technology, meddled with patient health and lost nearly a billion dollars of investor money along the way.

Prosecutors capped their case Friday morning with testimony from a journalist who wrote a widely cited magazine cover story about Ms. Holmes that was later retracted. Witnesses who appeared since testimony began in September include former Theranos employees, investors, patients, doctors and scientists from pharmaceutical companies.

Prosecutors were forced to drop one fraud count Friday because of an error in their indictment, which prevented a patient in Arizona from being included in the case.

Jurors heard much from Ms. Holmes’s side even before the defense commenced its case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Schenk said Friday in arguments before the judge that a recent tally showed the defense had questioned witnesses for 65 hours of the trial, compared with 53 hours for the government.

"The defense has been putting on its case since the cross-examination" of the first witness, Mr. Schenk said.