After 15 weeks and 32 witnesses, the trial of Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of failed blood-testing startup Theranos, is entering its final phase.
On Thursday morning, prosecutors begin their closing arguments to prove that Ms. Holmes, 37, is guilty of 11 counts of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
Her case is closely followed as a referendum on the worst excesses of Silicon Valley startup culture, praising claims for world change and rapid growth. The verdict could influence whether prosecutors are prosecuting similar white-collar criminal cases at a time when tech startups are swimming in funding and hype.
The jury of eight men and four women will begin to deliberate on Ms. Holmes’ fate once the defense concludes its closing arguments on Friday. Mrs. Holmes could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
The prosecution’s case comes down to proving one thing: that Ms. Holmes intended to mislead Theranos’ investors, doctors and patients with her claims about the start-up’s blood-testing technology. Proving intent is the most difficult part of prosecuting a white-collar criminal trial, said James Melendres, a former federal prosecutor.
“It’s about what happened in someone’s head, which is extremely difficult to prove definitively,” he said.
Before Theranos imploded, Ms. Holmes stood out as the rare successful female founder in the male-dominated tech industry. She had founded Theranos in 2003, left Stanford in 2004 to work on the start-up, and raised nearly $1 billion from investors for the company’s supposedly revolutionary blood-testing technology.
But a 2015 Wall Street Journal investigation revealed that Theranos’ technology didn’t work and that Ms. Holmes appeared to have courted investors and commercial partners with exaggerated and misleading claims. The company collapsed in 2018 as a result of a scandal.
That same year, Mrs. Holmes charged with fraud. Her trial began on September 8 after numerous delays.
Prosecutors outlined six main areas of Ms. Holmes’ alleged deception, including lies about the capabilities of Theranos’ technology, her work with the military and her business achievements.
The government called on former Theranos employees to testify about failed tests and a dysfunctional lab environment. Doctors and patients talked about how they had made medical decisions based on Theranos tests that turned out to be wrong. And investors and pharmaceutical executives said Ms. Holmes’s misleading claims had led them to invest millions of dollars in Theranos or sign contracts with her company.
Last month, Ms. Holmes took the stand, portraying herself as a well-meaning entrepreneur who was naive and relied too much on those around her. She said she had been emotionally and physically abused by Ramesh Balwani, the former chief operating officer of Theranos and her ex-boyfriend. mr. Balwani, who made identical allegations of fraud against Ms. Holmes, and faces trial next year, has denied the charges.