Elizabeth Holmes relies on her tight entourage of friends as fraud trial nears its end


People outside courthouse for the trial of Elizabeth Holmes.
Yasmin Khorram | CNBC

SAN JOSE, CALIF. — As Elizabeth Holmes testifies in her own defense, she’s getting a little help from her friends. 

CNBC has learned Holmes has called former friends and sorority sisters from Kappa Alpha Theta at Stanford asking if they would go to court as a show of support. Not all of her friends have accepted the invitation. A source close to the matter told CNBC one friend backed off because she was uncomfortable with the request.

Nevertheless, a small group of women — some from Holmes’ early days at Stanford — are a regular part of the former Theranos CEO’s entourage, which is now growing as she’s on the stand.

The friends, who are frequently photographed with Holmes outside court, do not identify themselves when asked. Social media sleuths watching the trial thought one of the women who has been accompanying Holmes was Vanessa Kirby, the actress who played Princess Margaret in “The Crown” on Netflix.

Asked outside court if she were Kirby, she said ”I don’t even know who that is.” However last week, while in line to enter the courthouse, she told a reporter her name was in fact Vanessa. That wasn’t true.

Her name is actually Jackie Lamping. However Lamping, who was in the same sorority as Holmes at Stanford, has not portrayed royalty on screen. According to her LinkedIn page, she is a marketing executive based in New York. She did not respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

The “seen with friends” strategy is actually quite common, according to several legal analysts.

“Jurors are watching the behavior of the people who show up to support her,” Katherine James, a trial consultant based in Los Angeles, said. “There is a strong belief that if there are people with you that the jury is going to like it will rub off on you.”

But the strategy could turn against her.

“I’d be careful if I were Elizabeth Holmes,” Alan Tuerkheimer, a Chicago attorney and trial consultant, said. ”Of course, she’s going to try and show an image that resonates with the jury, but if they see that as any kind of manipulative ploy to impress them then it could entirely backfire.”

Another friend who has shown up regularly also has dodged reporters’ questions about her name, divulging only that she played tennis and travels to San Jose for the trial.

Asked her name by one reporter, the woman replied “I don’t remember.” In line with others in the early morning hours last week, she told CNBC that she’s originally from Croatia, but was elusive about her identity.

Although standoffish with reporters, the two women hug and frequently chat with Holmes in the hallway during breaks. The questions over their identities isn’t the first time a member of Holmes’ camp has been less than forthcoming with the media.

At the start of the trial, her partner’s father, William “Bill” Evans, attended jury selection casually dressed and said his name was “Hanson.” Evans sat in the back of the courtroom and said he was merely a spectator. He did not return to court after NPR revealed his identity.

On the stand over the course of five days, Holmes has shown a glimmer of remorse. For example, she told the jury “I wish I had done it differently,” when asked about adding the logos of drug makers on to Theranos lab reports that were sent to investors.

“I think she’s probably feeling like ‘I will beat this,’ she has a lot of optimism and a little bit of woe is me. I don’t think there’s guilt based on my conversations with her,” a former close friend of Holmes said.

Attorneys for Holmes did not respond to CNBC’s request for comment. While Holmes’ testimony took trial watchers’ by surprise, people who know her tell CNBC that she wants to control the narrative.

“She has an arrogance of nobody can do as good a job as I can,” another former friend who knew Holmes well said. “My suspicion is that she didn’t intend to testify, but after watching the trial unfold she decided that she’s best suited to defend herself.”

Holmes, who was able to persuade sophisticated investors to raise $945 million for Theranos, is gambling that she’ll also be able to convince the jury that while she made mistakes she did not commit a crime.

“She has 945 million reasons to believe and be confident in her ability to persuade,” the former friend said. “She can’t help herself, look at the circus she has created around her with holding her mom’s hand who she’s not particularly close with and engaging acquaintances from Stanford for a show of force.”

A former Theranos employee who was close to Holmes, and also asked not to be identified, said Holmes likely insisted that she take the stand.

“She has a really high tolerance for stress and risk,” the former friend said. “That’s what entrepreneurs do. But the kinds of risks that Elizabeth has taken the vast majority of the rest of us would never do.”

On the stand, the jury and members of the public have seen a different side of Holmes than what she portrayed as CEO of Theranos. Prosecutors have zeroed in on the inconsistencies Holmes made to investors, journalists and in prior civil depositions.

Facing possible prison time, former friends of Holmes all say she’s betting on herself to clear her name.

As Holmes wrote in a note to herself shown in court this week, “I know the outcome of every encounter.”

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