2013-03-08 / Front Page

Trial close to end as prosecution rests case

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer

ALFRED — The trial of Mark Strong may soon reach a conclusion, as state prosecutors rested their case on Monday, March 4. Strong’s attorneys indicated they would rest the defense on Tuesday, March 5.

Strong faces 13 counts of promotion of prostitution for his alleged partnership with Alexis Wright in running a prostitution operation from a Zumba dance studio in Kennebunk. Wright faces 106 counts including engaging in prostitution, theft, failure to pay income taxes and invasion of privacy. She is scheduled to stand trial in May.

Both sides said Tuesday they would try to agree on a statement to sum up testimony from Lt. Dan Jones, who is out of the state for a funeral. If that happens, there would be no remaining witnesses. Justice Nancy Mills said Tuesday, “We’re not at the end of the trial but we can see it from here.”

Immediately after the state rested its case Monday, Strong’s defense attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the 12 counts of promotion of prostitution. Attorney Tina Nadeau argued to Mills on Tuesday morning the definition of promoting prostitution is too broad in the case, and therefore has prevented Strong from mounting an adequate defense. She called the state’s case “spaghetti prosecution,” and said its approach has been to “throw it all against the wall and see what sticks.”

Defense attorney Daniel Lilley argued a second motion to dismiss all of the promotion of prostitution counts except for the initial charge, which encompasses the entire timeline of Strong’s alleged crimes. Strong was charged with one count in July, then indicted on 58 additional counts in October. The Maine Supreme Court has since upheld a ruling from Mills to dismiss 46 of those charges.

Lilley said if Strong is guilty of promoting prostitution, it is as a “continuing enterprise.” The Skype snapshots on Strong’s computer, email communications with Wright, and further evidence support the state’s case for the single charge, he said, but do not constitute further crimes.

Deputy District Attorney Justina McGettigan said the state could have charged Strong with a count of promoting prostitution for each of Wright’s individual clients, but instead decided to break up the charges into a month-by-month basis after police took 85 additional items of evidence from Strong’s Thomaston home and office in July.

The state has argued that Strong’s connection to Wright’s alleged prostitution business was apparent because his name appeared on building permits from the town of Kennebunk, as well as a lease Wright signed both for her Pura Vida dance studio on York Street and an office next door on High Street.

Strong’s trial will not include testimony from any of the clients who paid for sex with Wright. McGettigan had indicated she would call as many as eight of those johns, but it appears none will take the stand.

Instead, state prosecutors reached an agreement Monday afternoon with Strong’s defense on a statement Justice Mills will read to jurors. Mills will tell the jury the clients paid for sex with Wright, but did not know Strong or see him at the Pura Vida studio in Kennebunk. The clients who were scheduled to testify in court have all pleaded guilty to engaging a prostitute.

Officer Audra Presby of the Kennebunk Police Department, the lead investigator in the case and a key witness for the state, finished her three-day testimony Monday morning.

Lilley has claimed Presby and other members of the Kennebunk Police Department had ulterior motives to prosecute Strong because his client was investigating misconduct in the department, including an extramarital affair Presby had with Lt. Nick Higgins, who has since left the department.

Lilley’s questions intended to reveal Presby’s motives, as he said, “to find out what she knew and when she knew it,” but the cross-examination was frequently interrupted by the state’s sustained objections, which Justice Mills said attempted to introduce hearsay evidence.

Presby testified she did have an affair with Higgins, but said it had no effect on the investigation into the Strong and Wright cases.

Mills allowed Presby to describe he reaction when police found yellow legal pads containing names and personal information about Kennebunk police officers.

“I was quite taken back, honestly. I had never met this man and yet my name and other members of my department are all over legal pads. It was quite shocking and I didn’t know what to think at that point,” Presby said.

Presby said police found evidence that Wright videotaped the February 2012 search and seizure Kennebunk Police performed at her High Street office, while Strong watched and took Skype video snapshots.

The defense called four witnesses to testify, three members of the Kennebunk Police Department and the defendant’s brother James Strong, who said he asked Maine State Police not to allow any Kennebunk police officers unsupervised access to computer equipment.

Lilley asked Detective David Jamieson, Lt. Anthony Bean Burpee and Chief Robert MacKenzie about their involvement with the alleged misconduct Strong was investigating, as well as the decision to allow Presby, a patrol officer, to remain with a case that would be normally handled by a superior.

“Is it normal that a patrol officer would be in charge of a case of this magnitude?” Lilley asked Det. Jamieson.

“We’ve never had a case of this magnitude,” Det. Jamieson responded.

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