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Elizabeth Holmes’ ex-boyfriend Sunny Balwani ‘is no Johnny Depp’, says an expert on juror behavior

Former Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes and former Theranos COO Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani.

Yichuan Cao/Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

  • Sunny Balwani’s trial on fraud charges linked to Theranos is continuing after a break.
  • Jill Huntley Taylor, a juror expert, said Balwani comes off as less likeable than Holmes to jurors.
  • Balwani faces abuse allegations, but Taylor said he would be wrong to use Johnny Depp’s strategy. 

As the trial of former Theranos COO Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani continues in San Jose, California, experts say he faces a more difficult courtroom battle than his former colleague and lover Elizabeth Holmes. 

Balwani is being tried on two charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and nine charges of wire fraud linked to both investors and clients in the failed blood testing startup.

Holmes, who founded Theranos, has tried to have her fraud convictions overturned, citing a lack of evidence.

Jill Huntley Taylor, CEO of Taylor Trial Consulting, which consults legal teams on juries, told Insider that both the evidence and the way Balwani is perceived would affect his chances of being acquitted.

Holmes was ‘a true believer’

While Holmes was found guilty on four counts of fraud-related charges and faces up to 20 years in prison, Taylor said a less charismatic figure might have faced a harsher outcome.

She was regarded by some as a “master manipulator” adept at convincing investors to back her vision.

Wall Street Journal reporter John Carreyou, who initially broke the story about Theranos testing, said of Holmes: “She had an ability to make people suspend disbelief. She has this reality distortion field.” 

These traits, Taylor said, worked in Holmes’ favor on the stand, but they are not characteristics of Balwani.

“People don’t love Elizabeth Holmes, but I think what she had going for her was that she pitched herself as a true believer in the company,” Taylor said. “She was the voice and the face of Theranos.”

The difference in their cases, according to Taylor, is that Balwani is less likable. His lack of charisma compounds the problems such as the mountain of evidence that Holmes had to contend with, she argues. 

Balwani reportedly struggled to grasp theories like Holmes, Carreyou wrote in Bad Blood, his book about the downfall of Theranos.

He once mistakenly referred to an “end effector” – the claws at the end of a robotic arm – as an “endofactor,” prompting a team at Theranos to use it on a slideshow as a prank.

Taylor said: “He has a lot of problems that she didn’t have. He kind of fits the part from a juror’s standpoint. He’s got the power, the authority, he’s got the personal traits that make the allegations more credible from a perceptual standpoint for the jury.”

‘Sunny Balwani is not Johnny Depp’

Holmes and Balwani were in a 12-year relationship during their time at Theranos. It was during this period that Holmes alleged Balwani was abusive towards her. 

The actor Johnny Depp successfully sued Amber Heard for defamation in a contentious US case that followed a UK hearing in which he was found to have defamed Heard, Depp’s ex-wife.

Some worry the Depp/Heard cases will discourage women from speaking out about abuse, and may encourage others accused of abuse to bring forward similar defamation cases.

And while a juror on the Holmes trial said the allegations of abuse seemed like a sympathy ploy, Taylor said any attempt by Bulwani and his team to present a similar defense would fail. 

“Sunny Balwani is not Johnny Depp. He doesn’t have the halo that Johnny Depp has, or the fan base,” Taylor said. “He does not present as that type of person, so I don’t know that the jurors will have any sympathy towards him. And I think they would actually be more inclined to believe Holmes’ allegations.”

Balwani’s legal team of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe declined to comment for this article.

The trial continues.

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