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Elizabeth Holmes resumes testifying in Theranos trial 

Disgraced Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes answered questions from her attorney — the defense’s first opportunity to directly rebut the government’s allegations of fraud.

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes resumed her testimony Monday in the closely watched fraud trial over her failed blood-testing startup.

After a delayed start, Holmes described what she thought were promising partnerships with pharmaceutical companies and confirmed that the company never finalized a deal with the Defense Department as she continued her surprise testimony.

In a move that most legal experts had discounted as too risky, Holmes’ defense team late Friday called her to the stand, where she testified for about an hour. Federal prosecutors allege that the defunct blood-testing company she started in 2003 misled investors and patients, charging her with two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and nine counts of wire fraud.

Testifying for nearly two hours Monday, Holmes outlined the fundamental promise of Theranos’ technology, to reduce the amount of lab equipment required for a blood test.

“We thought this was a really big idea, because these robots that are used in a traditional lab as far as we knew had not been miniaturized,” she said.

Holmes’ attorney, Kevin Downey, questioned his own client — the defense’s first opportunity to directly rebut the government’s allegations of fraud. Prosecutors noted that the defense had already spent more time examining the prosecution's witnesses than the government had.

Downey painted a picture of a young company in the late 2000s, illustrating its attempts to pursue deals with major entities in government and academia, as well as pharmaceutical companies, including Merck, AstraZeneca and Centocor.

“Merck sent data back to Theranos showing how well we performed compared to their traditional assays,” Holmes said while acknowledging that the two companies did not collaborate on a clinical study.

In addition, she said, there were some attempts to work with a section of the Army known as the Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center. 

“One was seeing if there were markers in the blood to see if we could predict PTSD. One was diabetes management,” Holmes said, using the initialism for post-traumatic stress disorder.

But, she acknowledged, the company was never able to complete a deal with the Army research center.

Defense questioning of Holmes will continue Tuesday. Government lawyers will have a chance to cross-examine her when the defense finishes its questions, either when court resumes Tuesday or next week, after a three-day break for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Left unaddressed in the description of partnerships with pharmaceutical companies was a key piece of government evidence: allegedly doctored Theranos lab reports and studies affixed with unauthorized logos from the companies, appearing to investors and business partners that the companies had endorsed Theranos' findings.

Witnesses for the companies testified that the use of the logos was unauthorized and that they were not aware of how Theranos was representing them.

The start of Monday’s proceedings was delayed by over an hour and a half. When court was set to begin at 9 a.m., the attorneys for both sides left their tables in the courtroom. Downey and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeff Schenk were seemingly in chambers with U.S. District Judge Edward Davila. They were later joined by another attorney from Holmes’ table before they eventually returned.

Holmes, who rocketed to fame as Silicon Valley’s youngest female self-made billionaire, entered the courthouse just before 8 a.m. Monday, gripping the hand of her mother on her left and her partner, the hotel heir Billy Evans, on her right. 

Elizabeth Holmes walks into federal court in San Jose, Calif., on Monday. Nic Coury / AP

She moved swiftly through a crowd of photographers and reporters, over 50 in all, some of whom had lined up before 4 a.m. to secure places in line to guarantee entry into the small courtroom. Several dozen observers also lined up, including listeners of various podcasts that have been following the trial.

The case has drawn widespread fascination beyond the world of business and startups, becoming the source of multiple TV and movie adaptations, books and podcasts that follow the blow-by-blow. Self-described “girl boss” fans defend Holmes on social media and wear T-shirts referring to the company's story.

The theory offered by the defense so far, centering on distancing her from the actions of her staff members, does not hold water, said John Carreyrou, whose skeptical 2015 and 2016 investigative articles for The Wall Street Journal kicked off the downfall of Theranos and its lauded CEO.

“She’s the CEO. She’s the founder,” he said in an interview outside the courthouse before Monday’s session began. “It’s not credible to me, because I know the story inside out,” said Carreyrou, who said Holmes was looped in on key email exchanges. “It matters whether it’s credible to the jury, and that’s less certain.”

“It matters whether it’s credible to the jury, and that’s less certain.”

On Friday, the defense asked Holmes to recount her early days as a student at Stanford University leading up to her concept and patent application for a blood diagnostics system that would use finger-prick tests instead of venous blood draws to run a multitude of tests. 

Testifying in the deeper voice for which she is known, Holmes described meeting the chair of the chemical engineering department, who encouraged her to keep pursuing her idea. Holmes said she reached out to many members of the Stanford community, seeking advice and connections.

The prosecution rested after 11 weeks of testimony and 29 witnesses. Immediately afterward, one of the original charges was dropped, the result of a prosecution error earlier in the trial.

If she is convicted, Holmes could face up to 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and an order to pay restitution.

A separate trial for her co-defendant — her former boyfriend Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, who was Theranos' chief operating officer — is scheduled to begin Dec. 16. Holmes’ legal team successfully argued for their trials to be separate, citing “an abusive intimate partner relationship” and saying that seeing him in court could trigger “debilitating PTSD symptoms” for Holmes. Balwani adamantly denied the accusations, according to court documents.