By Sara Ashley O’Brien, CNN Business
Inside the San Jose federal courtroom, I shifted my body forward and from side to side trying to watch Elizabeth Holmes’ face from the wooden bench I’d all but taken up residence in for the past four months. Like others in the courtroom Monday, I wanted to catch a glimpse of any reaction Holmes might have as she learned that jurors had found her guilty on four of 11 federal fraud and conspiracy charges.
As was the case throughout the entire trial, gauging Holmes’ reaction from inside the courtroom was a challenge. No cameras or audio recordings were allowed and only 34 members of the press and public were permitted inside. Those of us who made it into the room were situated behind the former Theranos CEO as she faced forward with her eyes on Judge Edward Davila. And Holmes, like everyone else in the courtroom, wore a mask.
With the exception of her time on the witness stand, Holmes had appeared devoid of any discernible emotional reaction throughout the trial, even as witness after witness testified about the ways in which they felt misled by her, and her failed blood testing startup. That only continued on Monday as Holmes became the rare Silicon Valley founder tried for, and convicted of, fraud.
As the verdict was read aloud, Holmes remained stoic. Once the jurors were discharged, she hugged her partner Billy Evans, then her mother, her father and friends, embracing each by placing an arm over their shoulder.
A day in the life of a courtroom reporter
For reporters like myself, the final weeks of the high-profile trial were marked by pre-dawn lines, long waits in hallways and the fear of being kicked out of the courtroom for typing too loudly.
With Holmes on the stand — the last of three witnesses called by the defense — and an end to the long trial in sight, people began showing up as early as 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. local time to nab one of the seats in the courtroom. A fellow reporter who was the unofficial leader of the line (and deserves a medal) dutifully took down each person’s name in the order they arrived, delivering each a number for the day which would serve as a guide for where to stand in line once the courthouse opened.
At 5 a.m., when the nearby Starbucks would open, reporters would take turns stocking up on caffeine and sustenance. Around 7:30 a.m., the courthouse would start allowing people in. Holmes would usually arrive around 8 a.m. Typically, I’d already be inside at this point, so I’d see her when she made her way up to the fifth floor of the courthouse. There was a telltale sign she was on the floor: The chatter among reporters would grind to a halt. At 9 a.m., the trial would typically resume.
In the courtroom, there’s a lot to do all at once: listen carefully, take notes, file a story, tweet updates — typing quietly, as Judge Davila repeatedly urged us to do — while trying to gauge any reactions from the jurors who were masked throughout the trial. All the while, I would shield my eyes from the battery icon on my laptop, showing a rapidly depleting charge, and not think too much about why my portable battery, for some reason, decided not to charge that day.
As the jury deliberated for seven days, reporters continued to arrive early but just to get a ticket and then set up camp on the hallway of the fifth floor. By this point, I changed hotels just to be a few steps closer to the courthouse.
Judge Davila’s courtroom was closed throughout deliberations unless the jurors had returned a note or a verdict. While the courthouse provided another room for reporters and members of the public to pass the time in until then, many like myself opted for the floor which provided closer proximity to the elevator banks. That way, we could get clues about when the jury was entering or leaving for the day, or any other comings and goings that may provide hints into a trial that, in many ways, felt as elusive as Holmes herself.
Searching for the real Elizabeth Holmes
Like other reporters, I had covered aspects of the Theranos story on and off for years before setting foot in the courtroom.
In her heyday, Holmes’ image had been carefully crafted. As the story went, she dropped out of her sophomore year at Stanford to pour herself into revolutionizing blood testing because of her own stated fear of needles. She leaned into the accolade of being a visionary like her idol, Steve Jobs, with her signature black turtlenecks. She spoke with authority and confidence, in a deep voice that no one seems to forget.
The trial drew apparent friends of Holmes, some of whom showed up on the day of opening statements dressed in a look that resembled the former CEO at Theranos’ peak — clad in black attire with their hair pulled back at the nape of their necks. It also attracted an artist who set up a performance art display outside the courthouse, selling a very limited number of blonde wigs, black turtlenecks and “blood energy” drinks. She said she wanted to see “what it was like experiencing her energy.”
Inside the courtroom, Holmes’ image also felt purposefully designed — but this time, to soften her. Gone was her dark eye makeup and turtleneck and in its place, suit skirts or dresses, neutral makeup and her hair down with loose waves. Her mother was her constant companion at the trial. Evans, her partner, was also frequently in attendance. Holmes would enter and leave the courthouse each day holding hands with one or both.
Over the years, I had heard much about Holmes’ charm, her magnetism and her gaze, the last of which was felt often as Holmes would walk through the main hallway to use the three-stalled women’s restroom on the floor. She would make clear and direct eye contact with individual reporters, including me.
For nearly three months, these glimpses were all we got. The closest we came to hearing Holmes’ voice (aside from catching a word here or there uttered to her attorney or her family) came from texts and old audio and video recordings presented as evidence during the prosecution’s case.
That changed when Holmes took the witness stand at 3 p.m. local time on a Friday, one hour before the trial was set to recess and mere hours after the prosecution had wrapped its 11-week case.
Initially, Holmes grinned as she spoke about the earliest days of Theranos. But on a subsequent day, she broke down on the stand as she testified she had been raped while at Stanford, which she said contributed to her decision to drop out. She then grew emotional once more as she testified about the alleged abuse she experienced at the hands of Theranos’ No. 2, Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, who was also her boyfriend at the time. (Balwani has denied the abuse allegations in court filings. He faces the same fraud charges as Holmes and has pleaded not guilty.)
Throughout her time on the stand, there were flashes of the famously charismatic entrepreneur who one retail executive had likened in his testimony to the former US presidents he’d met, in terms of her ability to command a room. She fixed her eyes on the attorney asking her questions, looked at the jury as she explained Theranos’ technology, and at times, provided details like explaining she’d remembered a certain date because it had occurred on her birthday.
She did then what she’d done best at Theranos’ peak: Articulate her own story, conveying just enough to humanize her, while also remaining light on the details and focused on the bigger picture of what she said she had been trying to do at the startup.
This time, however, she apparently fell short and was unable to persuade the eight men and four women on the jury that she should be acquitted on all counts.
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