Thursday, April 17, 2014
ALFRED – The two central figures in the prostitution case that drew international attention to Kennebunk were called as witnesses Monday in the trial of a former Kennebunk High School hockey coach who is accused of hiring Alexis Wright for sex.
Donald Hill, left, and his attorney Gary Prolman listen to prosecutors' opening arguments at York County Superior Court in Alfred on Monday.
John Patriquin / Staff Photographer
Deputy District Attorney Justina McGettigan presents her opening arguments during the jury trial of Donald Hill in York County Superior Court in Alfred. Judge Roland Cole presides.
John Patriquin / Staff Photographer
Wright and Mark Strong Sr. spoke at their separate sentencing hearings earlier this year. On Monday in York County Superior Court, they were called for the first time to testify about the prostitution business they ran from Wright's Zumba studio.
But anyone who expected a tell-all of what happened behind the doors at Wright's Pura Vida dance studio or business office in Kennebunk was disappointed.
Wright, called as the first witness in the trial of Donald Hill, took the stand for less than a minute.
Strong, called as the second witness, answered "I don't recall" to about half the questions posed to him by a prosecutor.
Among the 68 people who have been charged with engaging Wright for prostitution since the scandal broke last year, Hill is the first to take his case to trial.
At least 58 others have pleaded guilty or no contest to the misdemeanor charge. The cases against the others are still pending.
Wright's testimony was limited because Justice Roland Cole ruled last week that she could exercise her Fifth Amendment right to remain silent when asked questions in which she could further incriminate herself.
Wright, who is serving a 10-month sentence in the York County Jail, took the witness stand wearing a light blue and navy inmate's uniform, answering only three questions after identifying herself.
She said "yes" when asked if she had been convicted of engaging in prostitution. She said "yes" when asked if she knew Hill. She responded to the third question by pointing across the courtroom to identify the defendant, seated next to his attorney at the defense table.
Cole rejected an attempt by Strong to invoke his own Fifth Amendment right not to testify.
Prosecutors granted Wright and Strong immunity, but only Wright was spared from having to answer questions.
Wright's attorney, Sarah Churchill, argued successfully that prosecutors "made it very clear" previously that they did not believe Wright's explanation of why she went into prostitution, and that Wright faced a perjury charge even if she testified truthfully.
Wright has contended that she ran her prostitution business with the belief that she was an undercover agent working for the state.
Wright says Strong, who was a licensed private investigator in Maine, convinced her that she was acting as an investigator looking into "sexual deviants."
The judge ruled that the state's offer of immunity to Strong was enough protection for him to testify.
Deputy District Attorney Justina McGettigan said in opening statements that evidence would show that Hill went to Kennebunk on Nov. 1, 2011, and engaged Wright as a prostitute, and that evidence seized from Strong's computer would show that Strong documented the encounter in a series of photos taken from Skype video chat screenshots.
Hill's attorney, Gary Prolman, said in his opening statement that the jury would see no evidence that Hill gave Wright any money for sex.
"This was two consenting adults, and that's not against the law, thankfully," Prolman said.
Hill, 53, of Old Orchard Beach, has pleaded not guilty and said that he believed he and Wright were in a relationship.
Strong testified that he did not recall ever seeing Hill before news of Hill's arrest.
He said he didn't recall watching a live video feed of Wright's sexual encounters with clients on a computer at his office in Thomaston.
He also said he didn't recall seeing Wright's ledger of customers and fees she charged for various acts.
Wright, 30, of Wells, pleaded guilty on March 29 to 14 counts of engaging in prostitution and six other misdemeanors, avoiding a trial that attorneys said could have lasted six weeks and created a media spectacle.
In addition to serving jail time, Wright must pay more than $58,000 in fines and restitution, including more than $40,000 for theft of welfare benefits and more than $16,000 in taxes for unreported income.
Wright's plea followed Strong's conviction on March 6 for promotion of prostitution. Strong, 57, of Thomaston, has completed his sentence, serving part of a 20-day term in jail.
Hill's trial is scheduled to resume Tuesday with police and computer experts testifying.
Scott Dolan can be contacted at 791-6304 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org