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Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes will likely try to defend herself by arguing that she was being controlled by her ex-boyfriend, an executive at the company, who her lawyers say subjected her to "intimate partner abuse" for a decade, according to court filings unsealed just days before her trial is set to begin.
The legal strategy was laid out in a series of legal documents unsealed Saturday that show her attorneys plan to point the blame at Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, according to Law & Crime.
Her defense team noted it was “highly likely” evidence and expert testimony on the impact of the alleged abuse would be introduced into the federal fraud trial, which is slated to begin Tuesday with jury selection.
They argued in court documents, which were filed earlier this year and only recently released, that Holmes lacked the “intent to deceive” because of the highly controlling nature of the relationship, which made her susceptible to believe Balwani’s “representations” about the company.
“Witnesses interviewed by the government have indicated that Mr. Balwani was controlling with Ms. Holmes, that Ms. Holmes was isolated by Mr. Balwani, that Mr. Balwani was combative with Ms. Holmes, and that Mr. Balwani was often physically present in Ms. Holmes’ office, all factors that Dr. Mechanic [an expert witness] has indicated are abuse tactics used by abusers,” states a filing obtained by the news outlet.
Mindy Mechanic, is a psychologist and expert in intimate partner abuse, who reportedly examined Holmes for 14 hours and is expected to testify in the impending trial, according to NPR.
Holmes and Balwani—who served as the company’s vice chair, chief operating officer and president—were indicted in June 2018 on eleven counts of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud after it was discovered that the company had made claims about their blood testing company’s capabilities that couldn’t be supported.
Balwani’s attorneys acknowledged in their own court filings that Holmes planned to introduce evidence claiming that Balwani was so controlling he dictated what she ate, who she interacted with and even how she dressed, “essentially dominating her and erasing her capacity to make decisions,” they said, according to CNN.
His attorneys called the claims “deeply offensive” and “devastating personally to him.” He is said to “adamantly” deny the allegations.
Holmes’ legal team is also expected to introduce evidence that he threw “hard, sharp objects” at her, was physically violent, sexually abused her and monitored many of her communications with others, including her phone calls, emails and tests, NPR reports.
“This pattern of abuse and coercive control continued over the approximately decade-long duration of Ms. Holmes and Mr. Balwani’s relationship, including during a period of the charged conspiracies,” Holmes’ attorneys wrote in one of the filings.
Holmes, who recently gave birth to her first child, herself is “likely to testify” about “the reasons why she believed, relied on and deferred to Mr. Balwani,” and did not “knowingly” commit the fraud charges against her, according to the court documents which were released after Dow Jones, the publisher of The Wall Street Journal, petitioned the court to make them public.
Balwani’s attorney, Jeffrey Coopersmith, had tried to prevent the release of the documents, arguing that it could impede his client’s ability to get a fair trial, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Both Holmes and Balwani had petitioned the court to sever their cases. His trial is now scheduled to begin early next year.
The government has accused both of carrying out a multi-million dollar scheme from 2010 to 2015 to defraud investors who bought into the promise of the new blood testing device. Both have pleaded not guilty to the charges against them.
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