Theranos isn’t exactly a household word, but many of the potential jurors questioned on Tuesday had heard of the company or its former CEO, Elizabeth Holmes on the first day of her criminal fraud case.
Nearly potential 40 jurors were questioned over seven hours, and 14 were dismissed. One said, “I don’t have bias, except for I remember the defendant’s penchant for turtlenecks.”
Another juror, who acknowledged he had watched a “60 Minutes” documentary on Theranos, said, “I’m just glad I didn’t invest in it.”
Holmes, who appeared solemn, wore a black dress and jacket with a blue mask. She attempted to make eye contact with each potential juror as they walked into the courtroom.
One potential juror, who said she had read John Carreyrou’s book about the Theranos scandal, “Bad Blood”, works at a healthcare-related company. She admitted to the judge “there was some amount of disappointment” after she read the book.
“There’s not that many women that get to become CEOs of a high-powered company,” she said.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys are trying to find a dozen impartial jurors and five alternates to sit for what’s expected to be a 13-week long trial. Holmes and Sunny Balwani, her former business partner and for a time her boyfriend, each face 10 counts of wire fraud and two counts of conspiracy. Both have pleaded not guilty. Balwani will be tried separately.
Several potential jurors said they had read books, watched documentaries, or heard TED talks and podcasts on the topic. U.S. District Court Judge Edward Davila suggested that potential jurors turn off news alerts to avoid further media exposure.
One potential juror revealed he’s a news producer at a radio station which he said has featured stories on the high-profile case.
“I’ve been avoiding the topic at work but in anticipation of jury selection they’ve been running stories,” he said. “I’m not really sure how I can remain unbiased through the rest of the trial.”
“I look at my computer and all I see is: Theranos, Theranos, Theranos,” he added.
Davila joked, “I’m not going to ask you to quit your job, sir,” and later asked him, “Would it break your heart severely if I excused you from this jury?”
The judge also asked potential jurors about whether they or someone they knew had experienced intimate partner violence. Five potential jurors raised their hands. Bombshell court documents unsealed on Saturday reveal Holmes, 37, plans to claim Balwani, 56, psychologically, emotionally and sexually abused her. In the unsealed filings, Balwani unequivocally denies the allegations.
“The hardest thing for prosecutors to prove here is going to be intent so the more sympathetic and the more emotionally malleable potential jurors reveal themselves to be, the more the defense will want them and the prosecution will want to get rid of them,” James McGarity, jury consultant and partner at R&D Strategic Solutions said. “She really needs the sympathetic folks.”
Another potential juror told defense attorneys that he had left a negative comment on Facebook when Theranos shut down. “I followed the company because I was interested in it,” he recalled. “I was disappointed because I thought the company was so cool,” he said. “It was disappointing.”
Jury selection is expected to last two days with opening statements scheduled to begin Sept. 8.