The jury selection began Tuesday in the long-awaited trial of Elizabeth Holmes, the disgraced founder of blood testing startup Theranos, who has faced dozens of fraud and wire fraud conspiracies.
Ms. Holmes, wearing a medical mask and navy blue skirt suit with attorneys by her side, was instantly swarmed by photographers upon arrival at federal court in San Jose, California. In the courtroom, she watched Judge Edward Davila of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California oversee the case, and the attorneys interviewed the panel of potential jurors, filtered from a list of more than 200 to around 50. The jury had assigned seats that were separated because of the pandemic.
At the heart of the process are questions about what exactly Ms. Holmes, 37, knew about the problems with Theranos’ blood testing equipment and whether she deliberately misled investors about the company’s technology. If convicted, she faces up to 20 years imprisonment.
The case caught the public eye as another example of a Silicon Valley startup that went wrong. But Theranos was unusual in that it was run by a businesswoman. Mrs. Holmes used this difference to attract attention. She often wore a Steve Jobs-like uniform of a black turtleneck and spoke in an unusually deep voice. Before Theranos fell out of favor, Ms. Holmes was crowned the world’s youngest billionaire and regularly posed for magazine covers.
Your high profile can pose a challenge to the selection of the jury. Prosecutors and their defense lawyers may have difficulty selecting jurors who have not yet decided on the case.
Prospective jurors completed a 28-page questionnaire asking about their media consumption habits, medical history, and the knowledge of more than 200 potential witnesses. An even larger questionnaire prepared by Ms. Holmes’ legal team contained more than 100 questions. In June it was rejected by Judge Davila.
On Tuesday, about half of potential jurors raised their hands when asked if they had heard of media coverage of the case. Almost all of them said they could be fair and impartial, even though they already know the case from a documentary, book or podcast.
One prospective juror was excused for being a producer on a radio news show, while another was excused for watching a Theranos documentary. Two others were excused after declaring they would not be able to pay rent if they were on a jury trial that lasted more than three months.
Other questions previewed the legal arguments that may arise in the case. Judge Davila asked if any potential jury member had experienced or had been exposed to domestic violence or abuse of intimate partners. Ms. Holmes ‘attorneys are expected to argue that Ramesh Balwani, Theranos’ former president and former friend of Ms. Holmes, abused her during their relationship, based on 2020 court records. Also, Mr. Balwani, known as Sunny, was charged with fraud.
The selection of the jury will last at least until Wednesday, when another 50 or so potential jurors will be interviewed. Opening statements begin next week.
Erin Griffith contributed to the coverage.