Elizabeth Holmes’ trial over alleged fraudulent blood testing technology begins

Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes was once the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire. Now she could face up to 20 years in federal prison. Opening statements began in the closely watched trial of the former Silicon Valley star. Amna Nawaz discusses with Rebecca Jarvis, the chief business, technology & economics correspondent for ABC News, and host of a podcast about Holmes, “The Drop Out.”

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Elizabeth Holmes was not so long ago the world's youngest self-made female billionaire. Now she could face up to 20 years in federal prison.

    Today, opening statements began in the closely watched trial of the former Silicon Valley star.

    Amna Nawaz has our report.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Elizabeth Holmes was just 19 when she dropped out of Stanford to start a company called Theranos. Holmes claimed to have developed revolutionary blood testing technology capable of running dozens of blood tests for patients with just a prick of a finger. She attracted big name investors, from media tycoon Rupert Murdoch to former Trump Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

    Her work gained widespread praise. She spoke at events with former President Bill Clinton and even President Joe Biden, who sat on a panel about health care innovation at her company in 2015 when he was vice president.

    The company would go on to partner with major corporations, like Safeway and Walgreens, which offered in-store blood tests to customers. At its peak, Theranos was valued at over $9 billion. But the tide soon turned, after investigations raised serious questions about whether the blood testing technology even worked at all.

    Holmes, now 37, faces 10 counts of wire fraud and two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Holmes has pleaded not guilty.

    To help sort through this trial, I'm joined by Rebecca Jarvis. She's the chief business, technology and economics correspondent for ABC News. She's host of the podcast called "The Dropout," which chronicles the rise and fall of Elizabeth Holmes.

    Rebecca Jarvis, welcome to the "NewsHour." Thanks for making the time.

    You're standing outside the courthouse. We see you there. You were inside the courtroom all day today. Just give us a sense of what happened, what it was like in the room today.

  • Rebecca Jarvis, ABC News:

    Well, it was a little bit surreal, having covered this story now for so many years, to see Elizabeth Holmes in person before the jurors for the very first time, hearing those opening statements from both the defense and the government.

    And, really, Amna, what we heard today were both teams laying out their strategy for this trial, the government laying out a strategy showing that Elizabeth Holmes has misled investors, has misled patients, has misled doctors with her blood testing technology, whereas the defense laying out a story very much like the early years of Theranos and Elizabeth Holmes, that story of an ambitious young woman who sought out to change the world.

    Their defense is, essentially, mistakes were made, but, ultimately, Elizabeth Holmes did not commit fraud.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    As we heard earlier, she, of course, raised millions of dollars from a number of high-profile investors. Part of the prosecution's case here is that she defrauded those investors.

    What is the basis of their allegations? And how tough is that a case to prove?

  • Rebecca Jarvis:

    Well, and a lot of these names came up in court today, Rupert Murdoch, the Walton family, individuals like the Betsy DeVos family, who put millions of dollars into Theranos.

    And there are paper trails of the communications that Elizabeth Holmes, Theranos had with these investors. There are conversations. There's what she presented to the media, what was presented to these investors. So there is a large amount of evidence here, Amna.

    Where the defense will contradict that evidence is to say, these were supposed to be sophisticated individuals who put loads of money at risk, but they understand that they were taking a big risk on a leap of faith.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, the other part of the prosecution's case here is that she also defrauded patients, right, people who were making health decisions, ostensibly, based on the test results.

    And do we expect to hear from any of those patients as well?

  • Rebecca Jarvis:

    We absolutely will hear from a number of patients who received inaccurate Theranos tests.

    And this is where you really saw the jurors perk up, when the government laid out who some of these patients were, women, for example, who got misdiagnosed or inaccurate pregnancy tests, a woman who got inaccurate information about her pregnancy and was told to take new medications, based on the idea that a Theranos test said that she had miscarried, when, in actuality, she had not.

    There are patients who got misinformed about HIV status. We spoke to a woman, Sheri Ackert, who was misinformed through a Theranos test who believed for a week of her life that she had breast cancer, that her breast cancer had returned, Amna, because of these inaccurate results of Theranos tests.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Rebecca, at the heart of this is the big question whether or not what Elizabeth Holmes said, that her box-like test, this Edison box could do, it was actually doing. Do we have the answer to that?

  • Rebecca Jarvis:

    Well, the government laid it out plainly today that that box, the miniature blood testing device that goes by a number of names, including Edison, like the one you mentioned, could only do at most 12 tests ever in its entire history.

    And the real key here is the government proving intent, that not only did Elizabeth know that it couldn't perform those tests, but that she intended to mislead a number of people, from the investors to the patients. And they very plainly put it out tick by tick, from the device, misleading around the device, to these questions, for example, things that the company said over the years, that it was used on the battlefield.

    That plainly was not accurate on that, Amna. And that will be at the heart of the government's case, whereas the defense is going to continue to say, these were mistakes made by a young, ambitious woman who set out to change the world. Changing the world is difficult work, and she surrounded herself, unfortunately, according to the government's case, with some of the wrong people, including her COO and former boyfriend, Sunny Balwani, who, as you know, is at the heart of these bombshell allegations that came about just days before the trial began.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Rebecca, you have followed this more closely than most. You know this story inside and out.

    Here, you have Elizabeth Holmes, who went from being one of the most celebrated CEOs in Silicon Valley to where she is today. The tech world is not without its previous failures, right, big claims that don't pan out. But this is getting white-hot attention. Why is that? Is there something different about Theranos and Elizabeth Holmes?

  • Rebecca Jarvis:

    Well, I think, on the one hand, she is an outlier. She is a female who obtained a very large sum of money, which is very rare for women to go out and get the kind of money she did, almost a billion dollars, from the venture world and from family offices.

    It's also so much of this moment. Silicon Valley, in many respects, is around us all the time. And it raises this question of faking it until you make it. And if faking it until you make it is really OK, if someone who put people's lives at risk can get away with faking it until you make it, what does that say about the future of technology and all the things that we as consumers accept in our day-to-day lives?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    It's fascinating stuff. We know you are going to be following the trial and following your reporting.

    That is Rebecca Jarvis of ABC News covering the trial of Elizabeth Holmes.

    Rebecca, good to see you. Thanks for making the time.

  • Rebecca Jarvis:

    You too, Amna. Thank you.

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