This week, key witnesses at the fraud trial of Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of blood-testing startup Theranos, were former lab directors who testified about some of the failed company’s inner workings. But another issue increasingly loomed during the proceedings: how long will the trial against Ms. Holmes last?
Here are the top takeaways from this week’s events.
Plagued by delays
First there was a Covid scare. Then a juror had to travel for a funeral. Then a broken water pipe canceled the testimony. And on Tuesday, the court’s technology system went down, delaying proceedings by several hours and forcing lawyers to show exhibits on a projector.
Judge Edward Davila of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, which oversees the case, apologized and said he felt “very embarrassed” by the technical difficulties. The witness stand was equipped with a lamp.
The delays, cancellations and other unexpected interruptions have contributed to a growing sense of time pressure for a trial that was originally set to begin in mid-2020, but was subsequently postponed many times due to procedural issues, the pandemic and, finally, Ms Holmes’ pregnancy.
By the time the jury selection began in August, six years had passed since The Wall Street Journal revealed that Theranos’s claims about its technology were not what they appeared to be. Many witnesses have said during testimonies that their memory of events – some from more than a decade ago – was not crystal clear.
Understand the Elizabeth Holmes Process
Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of the blood test startup Theranos, is currently on trial on two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and 10 counts of wire fraud.
It took the prosecution 10 weeks to hear 23 witnesses from a list of nearly 200 it could call. By contrast, the Kyle Rittenhouse murder trial has heard of last year’s Kenosha, Wisconsin shooting 26 witnesses in six days.
Many of the names in bold on the prosecution’s list, such as Henry Kissinger, Rupert Murdoch or David Boies, have not yet been named. On Judge Davila’s public calendar, the trial will end on December 10.
On Wednesday, the Public Prosecution Service gave some clarity about the timing. Prosecutors said they would likely drop their case against Ms. Holmes next week. Then comes her defense.
A lab director who never visited the lab
Lynette Sawyer, a public health physician who served as co-director of the Theranos lab in 2014 and 2015, testified to the nocturnal nature of the lab.
dr. Sawyer said she’d never set foot in it, for example. She said she wasn’t aware it was developing its own tests and had never heard of Edison and miniLab, Theranos’ testing machines, or the nanotainer, its blood draw cartridges. She didn’t get any reports of lab activity, she said, nor did she meet Ms. Holmes.
Her job, testified Dr. Sawyer, was to sign documents she couldn’t edit. She left, she said, because she felt “very uncomfortable about the lack of clarity about the lab.”
dr. Sawyer worked with Dr. Sunil Dhawan, who previously testified that he spent a total of five to ten hours working for Theranos. dr. Dhawan was a dermatologist with no experience in laboratory science.
dr. Kingshuk Das, who became Theranos’ lab director in 2016, gave a look at the fallout from critical media reports about the company — and how Ms. Holmes responded.
Shortly after The Journal’s fall 2015 exposé of Theranos, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the regulatory agency that oversees lab testing, conducted an inspection of the startup’s lab. The agency then sent the company a message titled “Condition Level Deficiencies – Immediate danger.” In its report, the agency explained how Theranos’ lab was not compliant with regulations and said it was possible that every patient test the company performed on one of its machines was inaccurate.
When Dr. When she pointed the problems out to Ms. Holmes, he said, she suggested an alternative explanation from Daniel Edlin, one of Theranos’ associates: The Theranos machines hadn’t failed; there was just a problem with the quality control processes.
dr. Das disagreed, concluding that Theranos would have to invalidate as many as 60,000 tests, sending patients a report that simply said, “Invalid.”
In a cross-examination, Lance Wade, a lawyer for Ms. Holmes, pointed out that she agreed to invalidate the tests, despite “a fair amount of media scrutiny” and “potentially dire consequences for the company”. dr. Das, who answered most of Mr Wade’s questions in one word, said he did not know Mrs Holmes’ intentions. Unlike previous lab directors, Dr. That’s straight to Mrs. Holmes.
Ultimately, Dr. Das that Theranos’ testing machines, which promised to perform extensive blood tests with a drop of blood, were faulty from the start.
“I found these instruments unsuitable for clinical use,” he said.