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Former Theranos project manager Elizabeth Holmes testified at her fraud trial that her one-time co-defendant, Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, abused her and molded her into “The New Elizabeth.”
The emotional testimony began on Monday with Holmes, 37, claiming that she had been raped in college, an incident she credits for her drive to start the now-disgraced tech company Theranos.
"I was raped when I was at Stanford, and I decided to put myself into building Theranos,” she testified, according to NBC News. "I wasn’t going to class, and I was questioning how I was going to process that experience. And I decided that I was going to build a life by building this company."
From there, her defense lawyers began asking her questions about her relationship with Balwani, who is in now in his mid-fifties. They met in 2002, when she was 18 and he was 38, and shortly thereafter began a 13-year relationship that ended in 2016, according to CNN.
During her testimony, Holmes became emotional.
She claimed that Balwani was controlling and coached her on how to act, look and spend her time.
“Balwani told me that I didn’t know what I was doing in business and that my convictions were wrong, that he was astonished at my mediocrity and if I followed my instincts, I was going to fail," she testified, according to NBC News.
She continued that under Balwani’s influence, she “needed to kill the person that I was to become what he called ‘the new Elizabeth,’ to become a successful entrepreneur.”
The disgraced tech icon, who had once been compared to Steve Jobs, also read aloud texts between her and Balwani from 2015.
"I have molded you," Balwani texted her.
"Now I can be yours. No question. Completely," she had texted back.
She also claimed that he forced her to have sex with him after arguments because "he would say that he wanted me to know that he still loved me," according to CNN.
Because of the emotional manipulation, she testified, "I think that I didn't question him in the way that I otherwise would have."
Balwani has rejected all accusations of abuse.
Earlier this year, it was reported that Holmes’ defense team planned to accuse Balwani, whom Holmes dated during their time at Theranos, of intimate partner violence and argue that Holmes was unable to deceive investors because of the controlling nature of her former romantic partner. When Holmes took the stand earlier this month, it was considered a surprising move by the defense.
Balwani left the company in 2016, and their relationship ended shortly thereafter.
Asked by her lawyer what impact Balwani had on her work, Holmes replied, "He impacted everything about who I was and I don't fully understand that."
Holmes was indicted on fraud charges in 2018 for allegedly defrauding numerous investors by making false claims about the breakthrough medical technology her company had supposedly developed – a blood testing device that could perform dozens of tests using minuscule amounts of blood.
Holmes has pleaded not guilty. She faces up to 20 years behind bars if convicted.
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