In a bomb reveal just days before her criminal fraud trial, Elizabeth Holmes’ defense attorneys allege she suffered a “decades-long campaign of psychological abuse” from her former friend and business partner, Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani.
“Balwani’s control included monitoring her calls, texts and emails, physical violence such as throwing hard, sharp objects, restricting her sleep, monitoring her movements, and claiming that her success was due only to him,” defended the defense attorney wrote for former Theranos CEO Holmes.
The revelation is contained in documents unsealed early Saturday morning by U.S. District Judge Edward Davila. Holmes met Balwani at the age of 18 – he joined her blood testing start-up Theranos in 2009 as President and Chief Operating Officer. The couple, facing ten wire fraud cases and two conspiracy cases each, later admitted in escrow tapes that they had never told investors about their relationship.
Both have pleaded not guilty and denied any wrongdoing related to what federal prosecutors call a multi-million dollar scheme to defraud investors, doctors and patients.
Holmes’ attorneys plan to “produce evidence that Mr. Balwani has verbally disparaged and withdrawn his affection when he displeased it;” controlled what she ate, how she dressed, how much money she could spend, who she could interact with – which essentially dominated her and obliterated her ability to make decisions, “according to the unsealed files.
“Ms. Holmes’ allegations are deeply offensive to Mr. Balwani and personally devastating,” wrote Jefferey Coopersmith, a Balwani attorney, on file.
The documents also answer the question of whether Holmes is planning a testimony. “Ms. Holmes is likely to testify herself the reasons why she believed in, relied on and submitted to Mr. Balwani,” wrote her lawyers.
The filings also show that Holmes intends to argue that because of her relationship with Balwani, she suffers from mental health problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder, intimate partner abuse syndrome, anxiety, and depression.
Balwani vehemently denied the allegations, citing them as the reason for his request for separate proceedings, which were granted. Coopersmith writes that Holmes’ allegations “to establish her innocence would require him to defend himself not only against the government’s case, but also against its allegations, because their allegations are so inflammatory that they cannot be refuted before the jury.” “
Holmes’ attorneys also asked for their trials to be segregated, saying she “could not be around him without suffering physical hardship”.
“She argues that if tried with Mr. Balwani, she will likely experience stress and physical discomfort that will manifest itself visually so that she will not appear in her true sense to the jury.”
In 2020, Davila agreed that they would be tried separately. The files were unsealed in response to a motion from editor Dow Jones, a move that Holmes and Balwani’s defense lawyers attempted to block until after the jury’s selection.
Separating the processes is a strategy that, in the opinion of many legal analysts, was an important decision for Holmes.
“It allows a defendant to point an empty chair in court,” said Barbara McQuade, a former US attorney and legal analyst with NBC News. “To tell the jury that this is the real bad guy here, it was all him, and to ask the jury to understand this story and to acquit Elizabeth Holmes.”
McQuade said this can go either way, adding, “Of course, in his trial where another jury is negotiating the case, he could do the same to her. Point to her empty chair and say it isn’t Sunny , it was Elizabeth. ” . “
Holmes and Balwani’s lawyers did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.
The jury selection for Holmes’ trial begins on Tuesday.
– CNBC’s Scott Cohn contributed to this report.