January 26, 2013

Prostitution trial judge dismisses 46 of 59 counts

Prosecutors immediately appeal the decision by Justice Nancy Mills, and the trial against defendant Mark Strong Sr. in the Kennebunk case grinds to a halt.

By Scott Dolan sdolan@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

Mark Strong Sr., right, talks with his attorney, Dan Lilley, after Justice Nancy Mills dropped 46 charges against Strong at York County Superior Court in Alfred on Friday morning. Strong still faces 13 counts.

Gregory Rec / Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Justice Nancy Mills listens to Daniel Lilley, attorney for Mark Strong, during a motion hearing at York County Superior Court in Alfred on Thursday.

Gregory Rec / Staff Photographer

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PDF: Text of Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruling in Strong trial

Lilley and his co-counsel, Tina Nadeau, filed their motion to the court later in the day, requesting rejection of the prosecutors' appeal and suspension of the rules to allow Strong his trial.

"Now that 70 percent of (the prosecutors') case was dismissed, they're getting cold feet," Lilley said, speaking by phone as he worked on the motion. "As we say in Maine, 'Fish or cut bait.'"

In their motion, Lilley and Nadeau cited the Press Herald's appeal to the supreme court.

"The Constitutional rights of Appellee Strong are of no lesser importance than those of the media in this case: every minute, every hour, every day that goes by with a juror pool sitting idly, denies Appellee Strong the rights to which he is entitled and which he asserts forcefully through these tortuous proceedings," the motion says.

McGettigan filed a response to that motion, providing counter arguments to each point.

She wrote that Mills' dismissal of the 46 counts against Strong poses a "serious impairment" to the prosecution of the case, so there are legal grounds for granting her appeal.

By the end of Friday, the supreme court had not scheduled a time to take up the prosecution's appeal or the defense's motion.

Wright, 30, of Wells, has pleaded not guilty to 106 counts, including promotion of prostitution, engaging in prostitution, violation of privacy, conspiracy, tax offenses and receiving welfare benefits when ineligible. She faces 46 counts of violation of privacy, the same number as Strong.

Wright's attorney, Sarah Churchill, said Friday that she likely would have asked the judge to dismiss those charges against her client as well.

Churchill said Mills' decision Friday bodes well for Wright, because Mills will also preside over Wright's trial. "With regards to violation of privacy, the clients are similarly situated," Churchill said.

Wright's trial is scheduled for May, although Churchill said there is a chance that a plea agreement will be reached before then. Churchill has until March 26 to file pretrial motions.

Asked whether it could be difficult to seat an impartial jury for her client's trial, as it has been for Strong's, Churchill said it is a concern.

"A lot of times, there is a great deal of media coverage initially, but then a big lull until the trial, so it's easier to find jurors who aren't familiar with the case," she said. "That hasn't been the experience here."

The case has drawn so much attention in part because Wright is suspected of keeping a meticulous list of more than 150 names of customers, including prominent figures. Sixty-six have been charged and 18 have pleaded guilty and been convicted of engaging a prostitute.

E. Jim Burke, a professor at the University of Maine School of Law, said he cannot predict how the supreme court will come down on the latest appeal because the entire case has been unpredictable.

Burke said it is rare for the court to be asked to intervene in a case before it is decided, let alone twice.

If the supreme court allows Strong's trial to go forward, jury selection will have to be completed.

After three days of jury selection behind closed doors, the lawyers have yet to reduce the pool to about 30 potential jurors. At that point, they can use a limited number of challenges to select 12 jurors and as many as four alternate jurors.

Staff Writer Scott Dolan can be contacted at 791-6304 or at:

sdolan@pressherald.com

Staff Writer Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

erussell@pressherald.com

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