January 22, 2013

Can Kennebunk prostitution suspects get fair trial?

By Scott Dolan sdolan@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

ALFRED – With jury selection set to start Tuesday in the trial of Mark Strong Sr., a key defendant in the Kennebunk prostitution case, lawyers will soon find out whether the intense media coverage will affect the court's ability to seat an impartial jury.

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With jury selection set to start Tuesday in the trial of Mark Strong – a key defendant in the Kennebunk prostitution case – lawyers will soon find out whether the intense media coverage will affect the court's ability to seat an impartial jury.

Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer

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Defense attorney Dan Lilley (left) and his client, Mark Strong Sr., speak to the media outside of Cumberland County Court following a hearing Friday, Jan. 18, 2013.

John Ewing / Staff Photographer

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Strong was the first person to be charged in the case, in July, and is the first to stand trial. He is accused of conspiring with Alexis Wright, a former Zumba instructor, to run a one-woman prostitution business from her studio in Kennebunk.

Some in Maine's legal community say it will be extremely difficult to seat an impartial jury, especially in York County, where residents have been inundated for nearly a year by news reports and gossip about Wright and Strong.

"I don't think you could pick an impartial jury on Mars in this case," said Stephen Schwartz, an attorney with the Portland law firm Schwartz & Schwartz. "I wouldn't know what to think of someone who said they hadn't heard of this case."

Schwartz, who has practiced law for 28 years and was the first president of the Maine Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys, said that if a potential juror even claims to be fair and impartial, that person will be hard to exclude.

Others say the jury selection process will be effective in weeding out potential jurors who can't be fair.

"An impartial juror doesn't mean somebody who's never heard about the case. They may have formed an impression on this, but they are able to keep an open mind," said Peter DeTroy III, who has been in law for 41 years. "Ultimately, I have no doubt that you (seat a jury). I'm not one who is cynical about the process."

Schwartz and DeTroy have an indirect interest in the case. They have clients among the 66 people who have been accused, so far, of engaging Wright for prostitution.

Schwartz represents 11 of the accused men, three of whom have pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor and are listed as prosecution witnesses against Strong.

DeTroy, of the Portland law firm Norman Hanson & DeTroy, represents three who are accused of engaging Wright for prostitution. The cases against his clients are pending, and they have not yet been called as witnesses.

Strong, 57, of Thomaston, faces 59 counts of promotion of prostitution, violation of privacy and conspiracy to commit those misdemeanors.

Wright, 30, of Wells, is charged with 106 counts, including promotion of prostitution, engaging in prostitution, invasion of privacy, conspiracy, tax offenses and receiving welfare benefits when ineligible. Her trial is tentatively scheduled to begin in May.

Both have pleaded not guilty.

A total of 250 potential jurors have been ordered to report to York County Superior Court on Tuesday for the jury selection process, which is expected to last two or three days. The lead prosecutor, York County Deputy District Attorney Justina McGettigan, had questionnaires sent to each one.

Strong's attorney, Daniel Lilley, filed a motion last week to move the trial, but Justice Nancy Mills denied the motion after only brief arguments.

"York County is where all the attention is. It's where everyone seems to have an opinion," Lilley said last week in arguing to change the venue. "This case has seen more publicity than any other case I've seen in the state of Maine, other than a murder trial."

Melvyn Zarr, a professor at the University of Maine School of Law, said a trial judge is authorized to try to seat a jury before moving a trial to another county.

"If (Mills) can seat an impartial jury, that's one thing. If she can't, then the defense can renew its motion for a venue change," Zarr said.

(Continued on page 2)

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Alexis Wright

Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer


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