What It Was Like on the Elizabeth Holmes Jury for 18 Weeks
Away from the media frenzy, jurors dealt with the trial’s disruption to their lives and had little idea of the case’s implications.,
Away from the media frenzy, jurors dealt with the trial’s disruption to their lives and had little idea of the case’s implications.
SAN JOSE, Calif. — If you wondered what it was like to serve as a juror in Silicon Valley’s trial of the decade, Susanna Stefanek can tell you.
For 18 weeks, Ms. Stefanek juggled her family, her work as an editorial manager at Apple and her duty as one of 12 jurors in the trial of Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of the failed blood testing start-up Theranos. Ms. Holmes, whose case was viewed as a referendum on Silicon Valley’s start-up excesses, was found guilty last week of four of 11 counts of fraud for lying to investors about Theranos’s technology.
Her case was closely scrutinized because Ms. Holmes was the rare entrepreneur to be indicted, igniting a media frenzy and a zillion hot takes about what her conviction meant — or did not mean — for the tech industry. But for the eight men and four women on the jury, such issues were far from their minds, said Ms. Stefanek and another juror in the case, who declined to be named.
Instead, they said, the trial meant rearranging their lives. Initially anticipated to last 13 weeks, the proceedings stretched on for 18. As other high-profile criminal trials started and finished around the country, Ms. Holmes’s trial schedule was episodic, with testimony sometimes happening three days a week and sometimes not. All the while, jurors were barred from talking about Ms. Holmes or reading media coverage about her.
Inside the federal courthouse in San Jose, Calif., where Ms. Holmes’s trial took place, jurors heard from 32 witnesses, with testimony frequently lasting at least five hours a day. Jurors were fueled by court-provided bagels, fruit cups, juice and coffee, Ms. Stefanek and the other juror said. In their down time, they worked on a puzzle of Georges Seurat’s “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” and played the tile game Rummikub.
“It was like I was living two different lives during the trial: the life where I’d go to court, and the one where I’d sit down at my desk and log in to work as usual,” Ms. Stefanek, 51, said in an interview.
She said she had little idea about the trial’s broader implications. “I didn’t realize the impact of this verdict could potentially have an effect on how business is done in Silicon Valley,” Ms. Stefanek said. “It’s actually pretty amazing.”
Understand the Elizabeth Holmes Trial
Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of the blood testing start-up Theranos, was found guilty of four of 11 charges of fraud in a case that came to symbolize the pitfalls of Silicon Valley’s culture of hustle, hype and greed.
- Holmes’s Epic Rise and Fall: Silicon Valley’s philosophy of “fake it until you make it” finally got its comeuppance.
- Key Takeaways: Few tech executives are charged with fraud and even fewer are convicted. Here are five takeaways from the verdict.
- Analysis: Ms. Holmes wasn’t a creature of Silicon Valley, or so the refrain went. But her trial showed otherwise.
- What Happens Next: Ms. Holmes now awaits sentencing. She can appeal the conviction, her sentence or both.
Four other jurors declined to be interviewed on the record, and seven could not be reached for comment. Ms. Stefanek was earlier interviewed by The Wall Street Journal.
When Ms. Stefanek was selected for the jury in August, she said, she knew very little about Ms. Holmes, who had founded Theranos in 2003. Ms. Holmes, who had styled herself as a new Steve Jobs, had promised to revolutionize health care with blood tests that could discern various ailments with a few drops of blood. She raised $945 million and became the toast of Silicon Valley before her claims unraveled.
“I knew she had started a company,” Ms. Stefanek said. “I knew that it had failed. I knew she liked to wear black turtlenecks. That was about it.”
Ms. Holmes’s trial began with opening statements on Sept. 8. That started a new routine for Ms. Stefanek: She often woke up at 5 a.m. to squeeze in some work and pack lunch for her 12-year-old daughter before driving from Mountain View, Calif., where she lives, to the San Jose courthouse.
During testimony, Ms. Stefanek said, she took 541 pages of notes. At times, she said, jurors struggled to stay awake. Other times, they were shocked to see star witnesses like James Mattis, the retired four-star Marine Corps general and former defense secretary, who had served on Theranos’s board.
“When he walked in the door, I kind of felt this rustle in the room and I couldn’t believe it,” Ms. Stefanek said. “I was actually more excited about him than I was about Elizabeth Holmes, just because I knew who he was before.”
Over time, the trial’s schedule became increasingly unpredictable. Judge Edward J. Davila of the Northern District of California, who presided over the case, tacked on extra court sessions and extended days in court, which initially were scheduled to end at 2 p.m., to 3 p.m. and then to 4 p.m.
That “made it hard for me to commit to things at work” and “made it more challenging to get some things done,” Ms. Stefanek said, adding that her manager at Apple was understanding.
After closing arguments concluded in December, the jury began deliberating a verdict. They had a method for discussions, Ms. Stefanek said, recapping each witness’s testimony on sheets of paper that were hung around the fifth-floor courtroom where they spent time when the trial was not in session. They also enlisted the courtroom deputy, Adriana Kratzmann, to make photocopies of one juror’s handmade worksheet that listed the criteria for a conviction on each count.
To keep up their energy, bagels were supplemented with sandwiches from the nearby Erik’s DeliCaf?.
Jurors quickly agreed to find Ms. Holmes guilty of four counts of defrauding investors because she had given information — including inaccurate financial projections and altered reports — that jurors found purposefully misleading, Ms. Stefanek said. They also decided to find her not guilty on four counts of defrauding patients because Ms. Holmes had too much distance from the patients to have intentionally defrauded them, she said.
But they deadlocked on three additional investor counts because they disagreed on whether there was enough evidence that those investors had been lied to, Ms. Stefanek said.
On Jan. 3, after seven days of deliberations, Judge Davila asked jurors to fill out the verdict form on the eight counts they agreed on. Then they were asked to file into the courtroom so the courtroom deputy could read the verdict.
As the verdict was read, Ms. Stefanek said, she avoided eye contact with Ms. Holmes, who faces up to 20 years in prison for each guilty count.
“It was a stressful moment for me, because even though our work was done and that was a good thing, knowing the impact that our decision was going to have on the defendant’s life was still a burden,” Ms. Stefanek said.
With the trial over, Ms. Stefanek caught up on months of media coverage and funny tweets, saved for her by a friend. She said she was heartened by analyses praising the jury’s decision. She plans to follow the fraud trial of Ramesh Balwani, Theranos’s chief operating officer and Ms. Holmes’s ex-boyfriend, when it begins in March.
After four months, she could also finally talk about the case. Her daughter, too young to know who Ms. Holmes was, had understood only that Ms. Stefanek was on the jury for a “famous woman.”
“I think it was really good she got to see,” Ms. Stefanek said. “This is how the justice system works.”