Tuesday, March 11, 2014
ALFRED — Alexis Wright appeared naked in a video that jurors watched Wednesday in the trial of Mark Strong Sr., as prosecutors introduced the first sexually explicit evidence in the high-profile prostitution case.
Alexis Wright and Mark Strong Sr.
The video showed Wright drop the towel she was wearing as she stood in a picture window where men on the street could see her.
Wright could be heard narrating the striptease as she stood with a sign saying "studio."
"And now I'm going to drop the towel," Wright said in the one-minute, 45-second video. "And he's taken notice. They've both taken notice. And they're watching."
On Thursday, prosecutors plan to play a 50-minute sexually explicit video for the jurors in York County Superior Court.
Strong is accused of conspiring with Wright to run a one-woman prostitution business from her Zumba studio in Kennebunk. He is the first of the two to stand trial.
Hundreds of sexually explicit pictures and videos have triggered sometimes-testy legal arguments in court this week.
An exchange between a prosecutor and defense attorneys Wednesday morning highlighted the tension as the court considered which sexually explicit material to show to jurors.
The jury was out of the courtroom, reading printed text messages that were sent between Strong and Wright, as lawyers looked through stacks of color photos of what appeared to be nude bodies.
Justice Nancy Mills told prosecutors to pick representative photos from about 577 images that Strong saved on his computer while he watched a live video stream of Wright having sex with alleged prostitution clients.
Prosecutors argued that the photos should be shown to jurors because they document prostitution. Strong's attorneys said the images prove only that he watched the sex acts, not that he was involved in prostitution. They argued against showing the pictures, saying the "very sexual" images would prejudice the jury.
The lead prosecutor in the case, Deputy District Attorney Justina McGettigan, tried to present five photographs from over the course of one month to show multiple men allegedly engaging Wright for prostitution.
One of Strong's attorneys, Tina Nadeau, objected. She asked McGettigan during a short exchange whether she was conceding that there must be multiple clients to prove the existence of a prostitution enterprise.
"The state's not conceding anything," McGettigan snapped, raising her voice as Strong's other attorney, Daniel Lilley, joined the argument.
"This isn't helping. This isn't helping at all," Mills cut in as the lawyers began talking over one another.
Mills later said, "Let's keep in mind what we discussed last night. There are 13,000 photographs. The state's trying to submit, what, 30?"
The video was the first risque piece of evidence shown to everyone in the courtroom since Strong's trial began last week.
Jurors looked through about two dozen explicit pictures Wednesday, handing them, one at a time, from juror to juror without any visible reaction. Reporters, Strong's family and other spectators in the courtroom saw the pictures only in glimpses as they passed from juror to juror.
The pictures were among about 100 explicit images that prosecutors entered as exhibits Wednesday. The video and the pictures were shown while a computer analyst, Saco Detective Frederick Williams, testified. Williams was the only witness called Wednesday.
Strong, 57, of Thomaston, is accused of helping to promote Wright's illegal business. He faces 12 counts of promotion of prostitution and one count of conspiring to promote prostitution. This is the second week of his trial, which is expected to last more than three weeks.
Wright, 30, of Wells, is scheduled to stand trial in May on 106 counts, including promotion of prostitution, engaging in prostitution, violation of privacy, conspiracy, tax offenses and receiving welfare benefits when ineligible.
The case has drawn international attention, in part because Wright is suspected of keeping a meticulous list of customers, including prominent figures. Sixty-six have been charged, and 18 had been convicted by the end of 2012.
The text messages that jurors reviewed Wednesday were not shown to the court audience or read aloud.
Strong and Wright exchanged nearly 21,000 text messages from February 2010 to February 2012, a state police investigator testified earlier this week.
Williams, the Saco detective, testified Wednesday that he was able to reproduce all of the messages from Wright's cellphone.
Williams said he also analyzed a computer hard drive that was seized from Strong's home and insurance business in Thomaston on July 10, 2012, and recovered emails between Wright and Strong that included a spreadsheet listing names.
Jurors were given copies of those emails to read, but the emails were not shown to the court audience or read aloud.
Williams said the video that the jury saw Wednesday was recovered from the recycle bin of an external computer hard drive that was seized from Wright's property on Feb. 14, 2012.
He said he recognized her in the video from her Bureau of Motor Vehicle photo records. He said there is no way to determine when the video was recorded.
The pictures that jurors saw were recovered from a computer hard drive that police took from Strong's property, Williams said. Each photo has a date and time stamp showing when it was taken.
The video of Wright's striptease was foreshadowed by testimony last week by the manager of Toppings Pizza, which is in the same plaza in Kennebunk where Wright operated her Pura Vida Zumba studio.
Daniel Racaniello said he delivered spaghetti and meatballs to the apartment where Wright lived in Kennebunk, and she dropped the towel she was wearing as she went to pay him.
Racaniello described having Wright stand naked in front of him as "really awkward."
Prosecutors plan to recall Williams to the stand Thursday.
Scott Dolan can be contacted at 791-6304 or at: