Key takeaways from week 10 of the Elizabeth Holmes trial.
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This week, the main witnesses in the fraud trial of Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of blood testing start-up Theranos, were former lab directors who testified about some of the inner workings of the bankrupt company. But a different question increasingly loomed over the proceedings: How long will Mrs Holmes’ trial last?
Here are the main takeaways from this week’s events.
Plagued by delays
First there was a Covid alert. Then a juror had to come to a funeral. Then a broken water pipe canceled the testimony. And on Tuesday, the court’s technological system broke down, delaying proceedings for hours and forcing lawyers to project exhibits on a projector.
Judge Edward Davila of the US District Court for the Northern District of California, who is overseeing the case, apologized and said he was “very embarrassed” by the technical issues. The witness stand was equipped with a flashlight.
Delays, cancellations and other unplanned interruptions have added to a growing sense of time pressure for a trial that was originally scheduled to begin in mid-2020 but has subsequently been repeatedly postponed due to procedural issues, the pandemic and, finally , of Mrs Holmes’ pregnancy. .
By the time jury selection began in August, six years had passed since The Wall Street Journal revealed that Theranos’ claims about its technology were not what they appeared to be. Many witnesses testified that their recollection of the events – some from over ten years ago – was not crystal clear.
Understanding the trial of Elizabeth Holmes
Elizabeth Holmes, founder of blood testing start-up Theranos, is currently on trial on two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and 10 counts of wire fraud.
The prosecution took 10 weeks to call 23 witnesses out of a list of nearly 200 it could call. In contrast, Kyle Rittenhouse’s homicide trial over last year’s shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin, heard 26 witnesses in six days.
Many names in bold on the prosecution list, such as Henry Kissinger, Rupert Murdoch or David Boies, have yet to be called. Judge Davila’s public calendar calls for the trial to end on December 10.
On Wednesday, the prosecution provided details of the schedule. Prosecutors have said they will likely close their case against Ms Holmes next week. Then his defense will be next.
A laboratory director who has never visited the laboratory
Lynette Sawyer, a public health physician who served as co-director of the Theranos laboratory in 2014 and 2015, testified to the ephemeral nature of the laboratory.
Dr Sawyer said she had never been there, for example. She said she didn’t know she was developing her own tests and hadn’t heard of Edison and miniLab, Theranos’ testing machines, or the nanotainer, her blood collection cartridges. She has not received any reports on the lab’s activities, she said, nor has she met Ms Holmes.
Her job, Dr Sawyer said, was to sign documents that she couldn’t change. She left, she said, because she felt “very uncomfortable with the lack of clarity about the lab.”
Dr Sawyer worked alongside Dr Sunil Dhawan, who testified earlier that he spent a total of five to 10 hours working for Theranos. Dr Dhawan was a dermatologist with no background in laboratory science.
Dr Kingshuk Das, who became director of the Theranos lab in 2016, provided insight into the fallout from critical media reporting on the company – and Ms Holmes’ reaction.
Shortly after the Journal’s presentation on Theranos in the fall of 2015, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the regulatory body that oversees lab tests, carried out an inspection of the startup’s lab. The agency then sent the company a notice titled “Condition Deficiencies – Immediate Danger”. In its report, the agency explained how Theranos’ lab was not in compliance with regulations and said it was possible that every patient test the company performed on one of its machines could be inaccurate.
When Dr Das exposed the problems to Ms Holmes, he said, she suggested an alternative explanation from Daniel Edlin, one of Theranos’ employees: the Theranos machines had not failed; there was simply a problem with the quality control processes.
Dr Das disagreed and concluded that Theranos should cancel up to 60,000 tests, sending patients a report that simply said “Canceled.”
In cross-examination, Lance Wade, an attorney for Ms Holmes, said she had agreed to cancel the tests, despite “good media scrutiny” and “potentially serious ramifications for the company.” Dr Das, who answered most of Mr Wade’s questions in one word, said he did not know Ms Holmes’ intentions. Unlike previous laboratory directors, Dr Das reported directly to Ms Holmes.
Ultimately, Dr Das testified that Theranos’ testing machines, which promised to do full blood tests on a drop of blood, had malfunctioned from the start.
“I found these instruments unsuitable for clinical use,” he said.
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