October 26, 2012

Child porn assertion has suspect crying foul

Mark Strong's attorney says prosecutors ought to be sanctioned if they can't back up comments made in a prostitution case.

By Ann S. Kim akim@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — The attorney for Mark Strong Sr. said Wednesday that he will seek sanctions against prosecutors if they cannot back up their assertion that evidence of child pornography was on a computer hard drive that police seized from Strong’s home.

click image to enlarge

Mark Strong Sr. listens to the judge during his arraignment Tuesday at the Cumberland County Courthouse in Portland.

2012 file photo/Tim Greenway

click image to enlarge

Daniel Lilley, attorney for Mark Strong Sr., holds a hard drive that he received as part of the discovery process in Tuesday’s proceedings. He estimated that he has only a quarter of the data in the alleged prostitution case that prosecutors have.

2012 file photos/Tim Greenway

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Daniel Lilley made the threat a day after York County Deputy District Attorney Justina McGettigan said in a court proceeding that “markers” of possible child pornography were found on the hard drive taken from Strong’s home in Thomaston during the investigation of an alleged prostitution operation in Kennebunk.

If prosecutors cannot prove that, Lilley said, he will try to have them sanctioned on the grounds “that they’re lying and that they have a hell of a lot more responsibility to keep that to themselves.”

Strong was indicted last week on 59 misdemeanor charges: violation of privacy, promotion of prostitution and conspiracy to commit those crimes. He pleaded not guilty on Tuesday.

Alexis Wright, a Zumba teacher from Wells, faces 106 counts in the case, including offenses related to prostitution, violation of privacy, tax evasion and theft of welfare benefits.

The case has drawn national attention and is being watched closely in southern Maine, largely because the records that Wright allegedly kept on her prostitution clients include more than 150 people, including prominent figures. The list of clients has not been made public, but police have started issuing court summonses to the suspected “johns.”

McGettigan spoke about child pornography Tuesday during an exchange about evidence with Superior Court Justice Nancy Mills.

In explaining why the state was not providing the hard drive to Lilley, McGettigan said there were indications – she did not say what – that there might be child pornography on it.

The state cannot turn it over because of statutes addressing the handling of sexually explicit materials involving minors, the prosecutor said.

Lilley said McGettigan didn’t have to make that assertion in open court and should have called for a sidebar, in which lawyers confer with the judge by the bench.

Lilley questioned why prosecutors hadn’t brought up the possibility of child pornography earlier. He said he was told in person, on the phone and in an email that the state didn’t have anything containing child pornography.

“I’m going to be looking for a retraction or something in the nature of a sanction unless they come up with a charge,” Lilley said Wednesday. “If they did (have evidence), you know damn well they would have indicted (Strong) on it. They’d finally have a charge with some guts to it.”

Assistant Attorney General Gregg Bernstein, the co-prosecutor in the case, said in a letter to the court Sept. 20 that statutes about sexually explicit materials involving minors did not apply in the case.

But McGettigan said in court Tuesday that there had been further “imaging” – a possible reference to copying the contents of a hard drive in a forensically sound way.

McGettigan did not return calls Tuesday or Wednesday. Lt. Anthony Bean Burpee, spokesman for the Kennebunk Police Department, said he could not comment.

Bernstein said the Attorney General’s Office is handling only the tax and public-assistance charges, and referred questions about other matters to the York County District Attorney’s Office.

District Attorney Kathryn Slattery issued a rare press release late Wednesday afternoon, saying her office would not comment on any pending matter, in accordance with state bar rules.

“We want to ensure these defendants have a fair trial, which is in everyone’s interest,” Slattery said in the release. “For now, as District Attorney, I am confident that when all the facts are made public, the evidence will speak for itself and the community will possess a full understanding of what happened.”

(Continued on page 2)

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