Elizabeth Holmes' mother, father and brother beg a judge to give her a light sentence — and Senator Cory Booker and even an ex-CDC chief send letters in support

Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes leaves after attending her fraud trial at federal court in San Jose, California, U.S. November 22, 2021
Brittany Hosea-Small/Reuters
  • Elizabeth Holmes could get decades in prison at her sentencing Friday. Prosecutors want a 15-year sentence.

  • The defense, meanwhile, has asked for an 18-month sentence and submitted 130 letters from friends and family seeking leniency.

  • The letters come from the likes of venture capitalist Timothy Draper and Senator Cory Booker and include revelations about Holmes' upbringing and career. Here are some highlights from them.

Holmes' partner, Billy Evans

Former Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes (C) arrives at federal court with her father Christian Holmes (L) and partner Billy Evans (R) on October 17, 2022 in San Jose, California.
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Evans' letter to the judge was the first in the filing.

"While Liz is incredibly hopeful, I realize she is terribly scared," he wrote. "This process is a string of unlikely events that lawyers, advisors and board members all told her would never come to be."

Evans countered a lot of what has been reported about Holmes' traits as a CEO.

He wrote: "Liz has been called an incredible salesperson, that she wooed investors, partners, and employees with a sales pitch so compelling that they couldn't help but to be involved. The truth is stranger. Liz has no ability to "sell something"; she simply believes in things with such depth that it is alluring. She believes deeply in her life's mission. Liz is not a traditional natural born leader; she is more of a zealot than a showman. She believes with religious fervor in the capacity to make the world a better place and everyone around her just so wants that one truth to be possible we end up believing in the impossible alongside her."

Evans also shed some light on goings-on in Holmes' life during the trial. He says Holmes is, in fact, pregnant, as one witness hinted at in a recent evidentiary hearing.

He said Holmes swam the Golden Gate Bridge earlier this year while pregnant; that her husky, Balto, was taken from their front porch by a mountain lion and killed; and that Holmes was recently "working on draft state legislation to help ensure victims of sexual violence and rape will be granted their survivors rights and receive the care they need." Holmes had testified during her trial that she was raped in her sophomore year at Stanford and separately alleged that she was emotionally and sexually abused by Ramesh "Sunny" Balwani, her ex-boyfriend and former right-hand man at Theranos.

Evans talked about how Holmes' trial had impacted their personal life, saying they don't have privacy and have moved multiple times after their home address was revealed, and that their son has been "avoided by other families not wanting to expose their children to my family."

"The price Liz and our family pays for this process is not just the potential incarceration that you will decide. In ways large and small, the process itself has daily costs," he wrote. "This will follow us for the rest of our lives. There is no avoiding the scorn that accompanies Elizabeth Holmes."

Holmes' mother, Noel Holmes

Former Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes (C) arrives at federal court with her mother Noel Holmes (L) and father Christian Holmes on September 01, 2022 in San Jose, California.
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Noel Holmes, who was previously a staffer on Capitol Hill, recalled the fateful moment when her daughter called to say she wanted to drop out of Stanford to focus on Theranos full-time.

"I got off the phone to think about it; as our children's education was of the utmost importance to both Chris and me," she wrote. "I thought about what we want for our children: that they would be passionate about their work and that they would do something of worth that would be good, and that they could hopefully adequately provide for themselves. So we called Elizabeth back and told her we were completely behind her decision."

Noel Holmes also wrote about the first time she and her husband met Balwani, which she says was at a restaurant in 2004.

"On meeting us, he immediately called us 'Mom' and 'Dad,' which we found very strange," she said. "Many things about him troubled us or made us uncomfortable, not the least of which was the fact that he told us he was in his 20s when he was obviously decades older than our 20-year-old child."

Holmes' parents found Balwani to be "a very cold person" and were "concerned" about Holmes in that relationship.

"We noticed that our daughter with whom we had always had a very close relationship and who had always been so open with us quickly became a stranger; our conversations no more open or interesting than those you would have with a neighbor you hardly cared about," Noel Holmes wrote.

She went on to say she feels like she is "living in a nightmare" amid her daughter's trial.

"What has happened to our daughter and to our family is unimaginable to me; what Elizabeth faces going forward is devastating for us as her parents," Noel Holmes said. "What a price she has paid for the failure of her dreams, her own missteps, and the mistakes of experts she brought in and relied on. Elizabeth has suffered enormously and lost everything: all her work, her company, her money that she put into starting and building the company, the stock she bought. She will forever be associated with this failure, though it happened when she was still so young."

Noel Holmes wrapped up by expressing hope that something good could come of her daughter's now-defunct company.

"Theranos' trade secrets and patents are out there in the world, and someone will finish doing it and make Elizabeth's vision come true," she wrote. "And so her ultimate dream to do something good in the world will hopefully come to pass."

Holmes' father, Christian Holmes

Former Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes (C) arrives at federal court with her mother Noel Holmes (L) and father Christian Holmes on September 01, 2022 in San Jose, California.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Holmes' parents talked about her upbringing and aspirations as a child and shared photocopies of several handwritten letters from her childhood.

Her father, who was previously a top official in the Environmental Protection Agency under George H. W. Bush, shared one that he said she wrote at age 9. It reads in part, "What I really want out of life is to discover something new, something that mankind did not know was possible to do."

He also discussed Holmes' relationship with Balwani, saying she grew isolated from her family during that period.

"We did not like him," Christian Holmes wrote. "His personality was brash at best and he could get angry and demanding."

Christian Holmes also framed the Theranos implosion as a shortcoming, not a crime, parroting a key argument her defense used at trial.

"She carries within her enormous sorrow for having not met the expectations of her company's patients, as well as those of her employees, friends, and investors," he wrote. "She feels that she failed to meet the needs of people who could not afford having their blood diagnosed and for whom Theranos was their only hope. Elizabeth will carry within her the profound sense of having failed to meet the needs of others for the rest of her life."

Holmes' brother, also Christian Holmes

elizabeth christian holmes
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Holmes' brother, Christian, is younger than her by two years. In 2011, Holmes brought him on at Theranos.

In his letter to the judge, Christian recalled his sister being "mono-focused" on academics growing up. He spoke of her beginning her relationship with Balwani.

"In the years that followed, my relationship with my sister was reduced to a series of formalities around her work. She spent all her time with Sunny and rarely included our family," he said. "I lived within driving distance from Elizabeth for about 5 years during this time period and worked with her for a number of years, and can't remember sharing a meal with just the two of us more than a handful of times, let alone many meaningful conversations."

Holmes' brother continued: "While Elizabeth probably knew it was not a healthy relationship, she justified it because she felt she was learning something from him, that he was critical to the success of her business, and that she was convinced that this was the kind of personal sacrifice she needed to make in order to succeed."

He attributed much of Theranos' failures to Holmes' youth and reliance on Balwani.

"Elizabeth is not without responsibility for the failures in her business," he wrote. "But I do not believe that she ever set out to do anything but good in the setting up of her business or in the vision she had for it. In retrospect, she should have moved more slowly, garnered more experience, and relied on different people. If she had, I am certain that my sister would be in a much different place today."

Senator Cory Booker

Cory Booker
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The junior senator from New Jersey recalled meeting Holmes at a public policy conference hosted by the late senator John McCain. Booker says he and Holmes, both vegans, "shared a small bag of almonds" as there was nothing else for them to eat.

"She often passionately spoke of her interest in philanthropic causes, in meeting global challenges like climate change and world hunger, and about the grave crisis of limited access to affordable, quality health care for populations across the world and here in the United States," he wrote. "I firmly believe in the possibility of rehabilitation and in the power of redemption for anyone. And I believe that Ms. Holmes has within her a sincere desire to help others, to be of meaningful service, and possesses the capacity to redeem herself."

Venture capitalist Timothy Draper

Draper Associates Founder Tim Draper speaks during the Web Summit 2018 in Lisbon, Portugal on November 6, 2018.
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Draper, who ultimately wrote Holmes a $1 million check to start Theranos, remembered Holmes coming to him at 19, seeking funding.

"When we backed Theranos, we knew it was a long shot. Elizabeth, at 19 came to us and said, 'We will change health care as we know it,'" he wrote. "When the press honored her as the next wunderkind, I was thrilled for her, but we both knew there was still a lot of work to be done before Theranos could fully delight the customer, and the beginning of the transformation of health care could begin."

Draper goes on to say he wouldn't back Holmes as a CEO of an organization again, but would support her as "an entrepreneur and Chief Science Officer."

"Elizabeth has a lot of brilliance in her," he wrote. "She will continue to be a positive contributor to society. Her vision for healthcare was only partially portrayed in her efforts at Theranos, and her ideas could save millions of lives over the course of the next few decades. Restraining her would be a travesty. People have asked me if I would back her again. My answer: Not as a CEO, but as an entrepreneur and Chief Science Officer, absolutely!"

Teton Capital Chairman and CEO David Sokol

PREVIEW David Sokol, Chairman, MidAmerican Energy Holdings, and Chairman, President, and CEO of NetJets, speaks during the Fortune Brainstorm Green conference in Dana Point, California April 13, 2010.
REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Sokol questioned whether the jury knew enough about businessto reach an appropriate verdict.

"Just as Ms. Holmes' decisions were not all flawless, neither is the jury system flawless," he wrote. "I accept the jury's decision in Ms. Holmes' trial. However, I also believe that such a trial revolves around extremely complex business realities which would be complicated for an experienced business person let alone someone not trained in such things as venture capital investing, accounting, proforma projections and related legal concepts and laws. As a knowledgeable investor, I can say with certainty that I would not have found Ms. Holmes guilty on any of the wire fraud charges."

Sokol said he knew Holmes to be "kind, smart, and a positive contributor to society." Later in his letter, Sokol invoked Thomas Edison's name to make his case for leniency.

"Failure, while unfortunate, is understood and recognized as part of the creative process," he wrote. "Thomas Edison failed over 1,000 times by his own estimate. He was not a criminal. Neither is Ms. Holmes."

Sokol was CEO of Berkshire Hathaway's energy subsidiary when he bought $10 million worth of shares in chemical company Lubrizol Corp days before he encouraged Warren Buffett to buy the firm. Berkshire said he violated its insider trading policy, and he resigned in 2011.



Former CDC director William Foege

Former CDC Director Dr. William Foege is pictured on the left in 2012. Current CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield is pictured on the left on June 23, 2020.

Foege led the CDC from 1977 to 1983 and is credited with devising the global strategy that helped eradicate smallpox. In his letter, recalled meeting Holmes in March 2014 at the request of Senator Sam Nunn to "get a briefing on what Theranos was doing."

"I was impressed by her scientific knowledge, her desire to solve big health problems, her enthusiasm and her work ethic of long hours in the search for improved tools in blood testing," he wrote. "She designed studies to test every step in the process of collecting, storing and testing of blood samples. In my view, watching Ms. Holmes, she was 100% committed to the company."

Holmes has often been touted as a charismatic communicator for her ability as a then-20-something to convince much older, high-profile figures to become investors and board members though they knew little about Theranos. Foege spoke to her influence over these people.

"She had a unique ability to involve former cabinet members, Senators and people accustomed to being in charge," he wrote. "But they listened to her. Part of this was her knowledge of the subject, but part was also her eagerness to absorb ideas and change tactics based on what she was hearing."

Foege also recalled meeting with Holmes after Theranos crumbled.

"Her questions revolved around what else could she do that would be of benefit to society," he said. "She was not trying to revive Theranos, but was looking for alternative ways of contributing to the world."

Former Theranos employees

Andrej Sokolow/Getty Images

Several former Theranos employees also submitted letters in support of Holmes.

One former machinist wrote, "She is a hard working woman and was nothing but kind to her employees. I believe in her character."

Another letter came from a former security supervisor for Arizona operations at Theranos.

"Despite her current situation, I still believe Elizabeth Holmes to be an honorable individual, a valuable member of the community, and a good human being," this person wrote. "Theranos was the best company I have ever worked for throughout my professional career. Our leadership under Elizabeth was second to none."

One former senior scientist remarked in his own letter that Holmes seemed to work on a "24/7 schedule," but that her inexperience couldn't be overcome.

This person wrote: "Her first real job was a startup CEO. She had to rely on other managers to oversee the daily operations. Some of the managers were not from the biotech industry. Their understanding of the development process and timeline might not really make too much sense. They often forced deadlines and Elizabeth was sold easily all the time and overly optimistic about the development progress. There were many problems that were overlooked. It was a systematic management problem due to her inexperience. That is why I was not surprised many years later when I heard that things went wrong with Theranos."

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