March 1, 2013

Jurors see sex videos in Zumba trial

Prosecutors show evidence suggesting that Mark Strong watched Alexis Wright have paid sex with her clients.

By Scott Dolan sdolan@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

ALFRED — Jurors in the trial of Mark Strong Sr. were shown a two-part, sexually explicit video Thursday as prosecutors laid out evidence that they say links Strong to a prostitution operation at a Zumba studio in Kennebunk.

The first part of the video, about 36 minutes long, showed Alexis Wright adjusting a lacy black material draped over a camera shortly before letting a man into a room furnished with a massage table. She then had sex with him and told him, "45 minutes went up to $250."

The man left a pile of cash on the massage table.

The second video segment apparently showed Wright moments later, in the same room, wearing the same dress, saying goodbye to the man and locking the door behind him. She then spoke to another man, who was heard but not seen in the video.

The unseen man asked her, "Do you have anyone else?"

"I have people, but they won't be here for 45 minutes," Wright said.

Strong is charged with helping Wright promote a one-woman prostitution business. Prosecutors say he watched Wright have sex with clients through a live Internet video stream and saved hundreds of still images from the videos.

The prosecutors presented evidence in York County Superior Court on Thursday suggesting that Strong watched Wright while she had sex with the man in the video.

The question of how much sexually explicit evidence should be seen by jurors has been the subject of numerous arguments this week, in court and in private conferences with the judge.

Prosecutors have argued that the images should be shown to jurors because they document prostitution. Strong's attorneys have said the images prove only that he watched the sex acts, not that he was involved in prostitution. In arguing against showing the pictures, they have said the "very sexual" images would prejudice the jury.

During the 45 minutes of video Thursday, jurors showed little reaction. Some frowned, one rocked in his chair and another looked down and away from the screen for short periods before looking back at the screen.

The trial judge, Justice Nancy Mills, divided her attention as the video played, looking at the jurors, documents on the bench and the screen. She had seen the video earlier, she said.

A computer expert, Saco Detective Frederick Williams, testified Thursday for a third day.

Williams said he found the sexually explicit video of Wright, whom he identified from her driver's license picture, on an external computer hard drive that police seized in raids of Wright's properties on Feb. 14, 2012.

Williams said he found corresponding still images, captured through an online video chat service, on a computer that police seized in raids at Strong's home and insurance business in Thomaston on July 10.

"For the time frame of the video, there were 45 corresponding Skype video snapshots," Williams said.

He said he also recovered a ledger spreadsheet from a laptop computer seized from Wright and a "key" to translate the ledger. The key included codes such as K for kissing, S for sex, T for touching and a list of other sex acts.

Williams gave an example of one ledger entry: "Robert N, M, T, K, L, BJ, HJ, S - $250." He said one column in the ledger was "for services rendered."

Prosecutors showed a total of nine videos of Wright on Thursday, but only one that showed her having sex.

In a video from Jan. 23, 2012, Wright appeared alone in the room with the massage table, wearing a sparkly blue dress with a black shawl sweater.

"The worst part about this camera is I have to transfer the video, like, every two clients," Wright said to a man, who did not appear on the screen.

"Yeah, I know," the man replied.

Wright then moved off camera for about a minute before reappearing to ask the man to review "someone for tomorrow" who had given her an email address but no phone number.

"I don't think I can get three in because I have to go to school," Wright said, before taking off her clothes.

In a video from Jan. 3, 2012, Wright appeared wearing a black mini dress in what appeared to be a dance studio space. She placed a call but reached only voice mail.

"You've reached Mark Strong ..." the voice mail message said.

Strong's attorney Daniel Lilley argued after five videos that the prosecution had made its point and that showing any more would be prejudicial.

The lead prosecutor in the case, Deputy District Attorney Justina McGettigan, argued that she was showing only a "small representative sample" of more than 150 videos in evidence.

Lilley said that just because prosecutors have so many videos doesn't mean they should be allowed to show more to the jury. "It matters not how many they have; it's how many they need."

Mills ruled that prosecutors would be allowed to show a total of 15 videos.

In one video, Wright was seen using her phone in the room with the massage table after a man who had been with her left to use the bathroom.

Williams testified that four text messages from Wright's phone were sent to Strong in the time the video was recorded.

Williams read the text messages aloud, including: "He's so nervous," "went to the bathroom" and "did you look up his plate?"

In another video from Jan. 23, 2012, Wright appeared in the same room wearing a short, red backless dress and asked the unseen man to run a license plate number.

"Oh, never mind, that's a woman," Wright said in the video. "I thought that was him. It's not."

The lead investigator in the case, Kennebunk police officer Audra Presby, took the stand briefly Thursday afternoon and began to describe what she did leading up to the first search at Wright's properties in February 2012. Presby is expected to be recalled to the stand Friday.

Strong, 57, 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.

Strong's attorneys say he was targeted by police for his work as a private investigator looking into unprofessional conduct in the Kennebunk Police Department, including an affair that Presby had with her former supervisor in violation of town policy.

Presby was formally reprimanded, but her supervisor, Lt. Nicholas Higgins, resigned before a discipline hearing could be held.

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

sdolan@pressherald.com

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