SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Fallen Silicon Valley star Elizabeth Holmes took the witness stand in a surprising development late Friday in her criminal fraud trial. The former entrepreneur is facing U.S. government allegations that to she bamboozled investors and patients into believing that her startup, Theranos, would reshape health care.
The decision to have Holmes testify so early in her defense was a bombshell development that carries considerable risk. Federal prosecutors made it clear that they are eager to grill Holmes under oath as they presented their case against her.
It's unlikely that prosecutors will get that opportunity until Monday at the earliest, when the trial resumes. The government's evidence included testimony from 29 witnesses, including former U.S. Defense Secretary and former Theranos board member Gen. James Mattis, as well as internal documents and sometimes salacious texts between Holmes and her former lover, Sunny Bulwani, who also served as Theranos' chief operating officer.
Holmes walked slowly to the stand before a rapt courtroom filled with spectators and jurors, all wearing masks. She took the stand about five hours after prosecutors rested a case it spent the past three months building against her.
Holmes began her testimony by recounting her early years as a student at Stanford University and her interest in disease detection while working with a respected chemistry professor, Channing Robertson, who would later join Theranos.
"He encouraged me to continue my research," Holmes recalled. She spoke in a husky voice that became one of her trademarks as she raised hundreds of millions of dollars and touted the revolutionary potential of Theranos' technology.
After drawing up a business plan and getting patents for the blood-testing technology she was trying to perfect, Holmes used the savings that had been earmarked for college to finance her ambitions to shake up the health care industry.
"I started working all the time ... trying to meet people who could help me could build this," Holmes said.
That combination of compelling testimony and documentary evidence may have proved effective at persuading Holmes to tell her side of the story in court. Listening will be 10 men and four women on the jury that will ultimately decide her fate in the criminal trial. If convicted, Holmes -- now 37 and now a mother to a recently born son -- could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison.
Holmes and her team of lawyers now have the opportunity to counter evidence introduced by prosecutors that cast her as a greedy, fame-obsessed swindler. They are also likely to argue that the former Theranos chief executive officer never broke the law while pursuing her audacious ambitions to shake up the blood-testing industry with what she billed as revolutionary technology.
Prosecutors called an array of witnesses in an effort to prove that Holmes endangered patient's lives while also duping investors and customers about Theranos' technology. The pitch: a Theranos device called the Edison would scan for hundreds of health problems with a few drops of blood. Had it worked as promised, the Edison could have revolutionized healthcare by making it easier and cheaper to scan for early signs of disease and other health issues.
Existing tests generally each require a vial of blood, making it both slow and impractical to run more than a handful of patient tests at a time.