March 6, 2013

Attorney: 'Love' drove defendant in Zumba case

But the prosecution's closing argument depicts Mark Strong Sr. as a shrewd man who helped run an illegal business.

By Scott Dolan
Staff Writer

ALFRED — Jurors will begin deciding the fate of Mark Strong Sr. on Wednesday after spending a night mulling closing arguments that painted the man at the center of a sensational prostitution trial as either a calculating participant in an illegal business or a concerned friend trying to help a single mother.

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Mark Strong Sr. listens to his attorney Daniel Lilley during closing arguments at York County Superior Court in Alfred on Tuesday, March 5, 2013,.

Gregory Rec / Staff Photographer

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York County Deputy District Attorney Justina McGettigan addresses the jury during closing arguments in the trial of Mark Strong Sr. at York County Superior Court in Alfred on Tuesday, March 5, 2013.

Gregory Rec / Staff Photographer

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Strong, a private investigator, and former fitness instructor Alexis Wright were "intimately and intricately connected," according to the prosecutor in Strong's trial on 12 counts of promotion of prostitution and one count of conspiring to promote prostitution.

"He's not a disinterested party or an infatuated man watching her have sex with many, many people, he's a business partner," York County Deputy District Attorney Justina McGettigan said of Strong. "She's a commodity, and he's controlling her."

Strong, 57, of Thomaston, is charged with conspiring with Wright to run a prostitution business from her Zumba studio in Kennebunk.

McGettigan made her closing remarks after the defense rested its case Tuesday during the third week of Strong's trial in York County Superior Court.

McGettigan said text messages, emails, phone calls and video chats between Strong and Wright between October 2010 and February 2012, including a detailed ledger with business clients and an online calendar of Wright's appointments, indicate they had a business connection.

McGettigan said the fact that Strong's name is on the lease of Wright's Zumba studio at 8 York St., Kennebunk, and that he was aware that Wright was engaging in sex for money indicates there is enough evidence to prove his guilt.

"We only have to show you that he was on the lease with her at 8 York St., but we've shown you way more than that," she said.

McGettigan said Wright's ledger shows 692 client entries indicating meetings with clients from October 2010 to Feb. 13, 2012, including 514 entries for sex or sexual contact for money.

Strong's attorney, Daniel Lilley, told jurors that two words stand out in the emails between Strong and Wright: "love and concern."

"If you look at the emails, there is the word 'love,' " Lilley said. "Everybody has a different view of sex. Everybody has a different view of lust. You are not here to determine right or wrong. You may think you are, but you're not."

Lilley used the example of a mother of a drug dealer who gives her son money or food. He said that no one would say that the mother was promoting drug dealing.

"If you have a doubt, if there's a motivation, what's in his head, it's to help this woman," he said. "Then you've got to give him the benefit of the doubt."

Lilley said Wright was a single woman with a child trying to put herself through college and that Strong was trying to help her.

"It may be foolish. It may not be your cup of tea. But this man fell in love, lust with this woman and he helped her," he said.

McGettigan stood and raised objections a dozen times during Lilley's hour-long closing argument. She objected most vehemently to Lilley's notion that prosecutors overcharged Strong with 13 counts, where there "should be two."

That led the judge, Justice Nancy Mills, to interrupt Lilley's closing for several minutes while she met with attorneys at her bench away from the jury.

In one of the 12 promotion of prostitution counts, Strong is accused of promoting prostitution from October 2010 to Feb. 13, 2012. Each of the other 11 counts of criminal conduct encompasses a single month, beginning with April 2011 and ending with February 2012.

McGettigan raised her first objections during the first quarter of Lilley's presentation. She objected another 10 times before he finished.

Lilley went on to argue that Strong made no money from his connection to Wright.

"A business partner without money, what kind of business is that?" Lilley asked. "That's not a crime. That's bad judgment."

At the conclusion of closing arguments, Mills sent the jury of seven men and five women home for the evening.

The judge denied two motions earlier in the day Tuesday by Strong's attorneys to dismiss the charges against him, after Strong's brother, attorney James Strong, testified as the final witness for the defense.

James Strong said that he spoke to police on the day of his brother's arrest on July 10, 2012, in Thomaston and requested three times that State Police not leave any Kennebunk police officers alone with computer evidence while executing search warrants.

Lilley has argued that police targeted Strong in "retaliation" for his work as a licensed private investigator looking into unprofessional conduct within the Kennebunk Police Department.

Police testified earlier in the trial that, on the day of the police raid at Strong's home and business in Thomaston, one computer hard drive mistakenly ended up in the possession of Kennebunk Police Officer Audra Presby and that the hard drive seized in the raid was later found to be blank.

Lilley had said previously that the hard drive had once contained all Strong's records of his investigation of the Kennebunk Police Department.

In her closing rebuttal, McGettigan referred to Lilley's claim of retaliation as a "crazy conspiracy" theory.

Lilley also called Kennebunk Police Lt. Daniel Jones to the stand as a defense witness, asking him questions about Presby's affair with the department's former second in command, Lt. Nicholas Higgins, and an accusation by Higgins' ex-wife that Presby inappropriately touched one of her children.

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.

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

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Daniel Lilley, attorney for Mark Strong Sr., talks to the jury during closing arguments at York County Superior Court in Alfred on Tuesday, March 5, 2013.

Gregory Rec / Staff Photographer


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