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In a surprise move, Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes spoke up for herself on Friday. in a fraud lawsuit that has held Silicon Valley in its grip.

The former CEO of the blood testing company is accused of deceiving investors and customers about a supposedly revolutionary device that could perform hundreds of tests using just a drop of blood. She faces 11 counts of fraud and up to 20 years in prison.

Holmes’ testimony came just hours after prosecutors concluded their case, as the trial neared the end of its eleventh week. The unexpected the decision to have Holmes testify so early in his defense was an explosive development that carries considerable risk.

Holmes walked slowly to the rostrum in front of a thrilling courtroom filled with spectators and jurors, all wearing masks.

“We have worked for years with teams of scientists and engineers to miniaturize all of the lab’s technology,” she said, testifying about five hours before the court closed for the day.

She recounted her early years as a college student and her interest in disease detection while working with respected chemistry professor Channing Robertson, who would later join Theranos.

“He encouraged me to continue my research,” recalls Holmes. She spoke in a hoarse voice that has become one of her trademarks as she raised hundreds of millions of dollars and touted the revolutionary potential of Theranos blood testing technology.

After developing a business plan and obtaining patents for the blood testing technology she was trying to perfect, Holmes testified that she used savings intended for the university to fund its ambitions to disrupt the healthcare industry.

“I started working all the time… trying to meet people who could help me build this,” Holmes said.

Federal prosecutors have made it clear they are eager to swear Holmes in as they present their case against her. They are unlikely to have that opportunity until Monday, at the earliest, when the trial resumes.

During the trial, which is held in the courtroom in San Jose, Calif., government attorneys attempted to prove that Holmes knowingly misled investors and patients by distorting the capabilities of his company’s blood testing machines. When their case was closed, the defense decided to dismiss a count of fraud involving a patient who was unwilling to testify.

The prosecution called more than two dozen witnesses, including former employees, investors and patients, who said Theranos’ blood test machines did not perform as advertised, returning inaccurate results. Witnesses also said many blood tests were done by outside labs rather than on Theranos devices.

Elizabeth Holmes’ legal team will argue that the founder did not knowingly commit fraud, but rather did not understand the flaws in Theranos technology.

In her opening remarks, her defense lawyer, Lance Wade, portrayed a hard-working young leader caught in the Silicon Valley culture that encourages entrepreneurs to promote cutting-edge ideas.

“In the end, Theranos failed and Ms. Holmes walked away with nothing,” he said. “But failure is not a crime – doing your best and failing is not a crime.”

The defense is expected to argue that Holmes was influenced by her co-executive and former boyfriend, Sunny Balwani. As potential witnesses, the defense team listed a number of domestic violence experts, suggesting they might argue Holmes was abused and did not think clearly when she made business decisions that have resulted in fraud.

“There was another aspect of Holmes’ relationship with Balwani that the public has never seen,” Wade said in the opening remarks, adding that “to trust [Balwani] as his main adviser was one of his mistakes ”.

Balwani strongly denied these allegations. His defense team did not respond to the request for comment. He faces his own fraud trial in 2022.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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