During the first day of jury selection at the federal fraud trial of Elizabeth Holmes, an incognito San Diego hotel magnate pulled a large Rice Krispie Treat from his pocket.
Loudly. So loudly, in fact, that the judge’s voice was barely audible in the back of the courtroom over the sound of his wiggling the brick-shaped snack out of tightly-wrapped plastic.
“My name’s Hanson,” said the man, wearing a baseball cap and a Patagonia puffer jacket.
He was sociable and chatty, adjectives that rarely describe people attending one of the most high-profile trials in Silicon Valley history. Holmes, the former head of the blood-testing company Theranos, faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted of defrauding investors and patients about the company’s technology.
As trial proceedings started, the man presented himself to reporters as something of an everyman who came out of curiosity and nothing more.
“I fix up old cars for a living,” he said.
“Elizabeth and I are the only two people not being paid to be here,” he added.
While the courtroom drama then centered on which 12 Californians would form the jury that decides Holmes’ fate, journalists in the courtroom had other burning questions: Who was this man? Why was he talking so much to all the reporters? Did he have a connection to Holmes he wasn’t disclosing?
When asked, he was cryptic.
“Do I know her? Does anyone know her? What does it even mean to know someone these days.
A short while later, he called himself a “concerned citizen interested in the trial.” He said it has always been on his bucket list to attend a trial.
Over the course of two days of jury selection, he gabbed with reporters standing in line to get in the courthouse, while on breaks, and even during the trial.
He maintained more or less the same story: He was a car enthusiast who was acting as a media watchdog, making sure the news coverage matched what he observed in court. He distrusted how the press has treated Elizabeth Holmes, he said.
“No journalist has ever told the real story about her,” he said. “Everyone is just copy and pasting each others’ stories without thinking.”
Opening arguments in the trial began one week later. Holmes walked into the courthouse surrounded by her family members. And among the entourage was Hanson.
Gone were the puffer jacket and baseball cap. This day he wore a gray suit and a somber black tie.
“I couldn’t believe my eyes,” said New York Times reporter Erin Griffith. “I immediately started asking other reporters, and they were like, ‘I think it was him,’ and when we got inside and saw him even closer, it was like, ‘Yep that was him.’ “