Early dismissal of one side of the jury panel raised concern it could be a case of jurors ‘willing to convict, but not willing to go to jail’
The fraud trial of the eccentric oncologist and Silicon Valley billionaire, Elizabeth Holmes, suffered a setback when one side of the jury panel was dismissed early this week, raising concern it could be a case of jurors “willing to convict, but not willing to go to jail”.
“It’s been an exceptional case,” Judge James Steele told the jurors when he called them into his chambers on Wednesday afternoon.
Famed for her claims that she could perform direct brain stimulation to treat cancer, Holmes is now being sued for fraud by a huge number of investors who have lost their money or had their investments ruined by the unraveling of her science.
The original jury panel has now been cut down to about 12 people, with its two alternates. Their names and hometowns remain sealed by the court. The dismissed side has a few young and attractive women, and one other male, both lawyers.
Elizabeth Holmes: ‘I have done nothing wrong. The money is ours’ Read more
Because the percentage of women has been linked to perceived prejudice in decision-making, Steele dismissed the women while they’re still serving on the trial in order to ensure they’re sequestered.
The women were excused because of their age, gender, and the fact they aren’t lawyers. But one other significant issue emerged in the judge’s chambers as the judge weighed the merits of removing them from the proceedings.
When they were first selected in early January, some of the jurors had very strong views about Holmes, the judge said. Many of them thought she was a “liar”, and one said he was “biased in favor of” the plaintiffs, along with the defendant.
“One of the women in that group said this was the first trial she’d been forced to stay home from while a kid was sick in order to finish her seat assignment,” the judge said. “She’s got the airline industry down to a science.”
“One of the guys was eager to convict. He wanted to convict before we started,” Steele said. “I don’t want a case where people are eager to convict and don’t have to go to jail for it.”
“I was really concerned that we’re not going to have a jury that can fairly and impartially assess the facts of this case,” the judge said.
One female juror had a Facebook “joke” on her profile that was later found to have contained some bad lyrics. But the concern was much more direct.
In the days following the initial voir dire of the jurors, with the opening statements due to start Monday, one “female” juror had confessed to Steele that she once thought: “It’s okay to only let certain people buy Suboxone pills.”
That would be an absurd position if the defendant’s defense team were not prepping a defense that starts with Suboxone, which is a prescription anti-opioid.
Suboxone has been widely used as an opioid replacement therapy in the US since 2006, but like many of the opioids used to treat pain, it is available in retail stores.
Another woman said she didn’t take heroin but had friends who were addicted. Another one had to do some digging to discover a phase II study that showed that the long-term effect of anti-opioid therapy was worse than that of untested, free-market medicines.
As the judge dug further into the jurors’ psyche, he talked to the jurors individually. The oncologist who was followed in Holmes’ body count when it was announced he was likely to be declared incompetent to stand trial. He also questioned jurors on who ever lost their job because of Holmes’ investments.
“These jurors have good-faith, innocent-until-proven-guilty perspectives, but they have biases,” Steele said. “I may be asking you to convict without the benefit of the jury, without a set of facts that you can consider.”