SAN JOSE, Calif. — Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes, charged with a dozen felony fraud counts over her defunct Palo Alto blood-testing startup, plans to introduce evidence of a mental condition that affects the issue of guilt, a blockbuster judge’s order has revealed.
Federal prosecutors will be allowed to subject the Stanford University dropout to 14 hours of psychiatric testing and examination over two days, Judge Edward Davila said in a ruling this week.
Holmes in December notified prosecutors of her intent “to introduce expert evidence relating to a mental disease or defect or any other mental condition of the defendant bearing on … the issue of guilt,” according to Davila’s order, released late Wednesday.
She plans to call as an expert witness California State University at Fullerton psychology professor Mindy Mechanic, whose university bio says she studies “the psychosocial consequences of trauma, victimization, and interpersonal violence.”
Mechanic “regularly serves as an expert witness in complex legal cases involving battered women charged with crimes and in other legal cases involving childhood or adult trauma, victimization and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD),” according to her bio.
Davila ruled that because Mechanic’s testimony will be based on an examination of Holmes, prosecutors should also get to examine her. Holmes had refused a March request by prosecutors that she participate in an examination, said Davila, who is presiding over the case in U.S. District Court in San Jose.
The government’s two experts, forensic neuropsychologist Daniel A. Martell and UC San Francisco psychiatry professor Renee Binder, will split the 14 hours of examination time, with Martell conducting psychological testing on the first day and Binder performing a psychiatric evaluation the second day, Davila ordered.
Only Holmes and an expert will be in the room when the examination and testing will occur, and Holmes will be able to have members of her legal team nearby or accessible by phone for consultation, Davila ruled.
Holmes and former company president Sunny Balwani are charged with allegedly bilking investors out of hundreds of millions of dollars, and defrauding doctors and patients, with false claims that the company’s machines could conduct a full range of tests using just a few drops of blood. The two have denied the allegations, with lawyers for Holmes arguing in a December court filing that the government’s case was “unconstitutionally vague” and lacked specific claims of misrepresentation.
They each face maximum penalties of 20 years in prison and a $2.75 million fine, plus possible restitution, the Department of Justice has said. Holmes’ trial, twice delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, is scheduled to start in March.