HOUSTON (CN) - Did the CEO drug and sexually assault four employees, or are his alleged victims lushes who had too many drinks? A jury will decide in a federal criminal trial that started Tuesday.
Henri Morris, 67, is the former CEO of Edible Software.
Prosecutors claim Morris spiked the drinks of his female employees during business trips and that some woke up naked with him standing over them taking pictures.
Morris, a native of South Africa, admitted drugging the women in a plea deal he signed in November 2013. He pleaded on the condition that he could withdraw the agreement if he were sentenced to more than one year in prison.
U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon tossed the deal after hearing testimony from his alleged victims at his sentencing hearing, and set the case for trial.
The plea deal meant nothing Tuesday afternoon as Harmon instructed the jury of nine men and five women, two alternates among them, what the prosecution must do to make its case.
"The indictment against the defendant brought by the government is only an accusation, nothing more. It is not proof of guilt or anything else and therefore the defendant starts out the case with a clean slate," Harmon told the jury through a microphone, her voice echoing in the spacious courtroom.
Federal prosecutor Sherri Zack kicked off opening arguments.
She described how FBI agent Glenn Gregory got a call from K.H. in 2012 and met with the 40-something married mother.
"She worked for and was hired by Henri Morris. She had been on two business trips with him and described to special agent Gregory the circumstances on those trips that caused her to be distressed," Zack said.
"She had lost her memory. She had bruises some of which were documented by a sexual assault treatment nurse."
The investigation led to another Edible Software worker, A.F., who claimed she also experienced amnesia on business trips with Morris, Zack said.
"Memory loss so bad that on one occasion she woke up completely naked, wrapped in a bedspread underneath a desk in the defendant's hotel room. She doesn't know how she got there," Zack said.
"She also remembers waking up completely naked on a bed with her face partially covered by a pillow or a sheet and the defendant standing over with a Blackberry, taking pictures."
Zack told the jury that K.H., still working for Edible Software after the alleged assault, called Agent Gregory and told him: "I'm supposed to travel again. What am I going to do I can't travel with him?"
FBI agents obtained a search warrant that they executed on Morris as he waited with K.H. to board a plane at a Houston airport.
Morris reportedly had several thumb drives in his bags containing pictures of A.F., Zack said, which Gregory analyzed.
"And what does he find?" Zack asked the jury. "Pictures of A.F., time- and date-stamped to when she traveled with him, pictures taken in hotel rooms of her essentially unconscious. Of her vagina. Up-close pictures, many, many pictures that were identified by a mole that A.F. has."
A.F. let an FBI photographer take pictures of her vagina to confirm the mole is on her body, Zack told the jury.
"Besides the computer media, what else is found? Well, the defendant's special little rape kit," Zack said. "Inside his bag is a brown pill bottle with no label and inside that are five pills."
Defense attorney Dan Cogdell made his opening arguments with help from a large projector screen, where he showed head shots of each of the four alleged victims.
"We expect the evidence to show there was no drugging of anyone. We expect the evidence to show that the dominant purpose of these trips was business, not sex," Cogdell said in a rapid-fire baritone with a slight Texas twang.
Cogdell said the prosecution will make its case through quantity not quality, and "the sheer number of women coming forward."
The defense attorney zeroed in on K.H.'s story.
"She claims 'Henri must have drugged me,'" Cogdell told the jury. "What the evidence will show is, and she will have to admit this to you, she drank more alcohol that night than she's ever had in a single night in her life.
"These are grown women. These aren't children. These aren't teenagers. These are grown women who are consuming alcohol voluntarily."
Cogdell pointed out that K.H. and A.F. have sued Morris, and claimed they are suing their wealthy boss for money.
Cogdell acknowledged that his client is not a saint. He had the balding and bespectacled Morris, sharply dressed in a dark gray suit with a blue tie, stand up in court.
"Mr. Morris did some things he shouldn't have done. No question about it. We expect the evidence to show that some of those things are going to offend you greatly. Some of the pictures that he took couldn't be any more offensive and any more improper.
"He did some things that were morally wrong. He did some things that under his marital vows were terribly wrong. But what he didn't do is break the law."
The trial resumes Wednesday at 9 a.m.