March 8, 2013

Bill Nemitz: Amid tawdry details, the beauty of our jury system

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More importantly, Lilley repeatedly noted, police found no evidence whatsoever of money changing hands between Wright and Strong.

"A business partner without money, what kind of business is that?" the defense attorney asked in his closing argument.

Lilley, in the face of the state's overwhelming evidence, had no choice but to muddy the waters -- and by the time the jury finally began deliberating Wednesday morning, it appeared to be working.

Many in the peanut gallery (see: talk radio, reader comment forums) had Strong walking on all 13 counts -- one for conspiring to promote prostitution, the rest for promoting prostitution.

Ah, but that jury. Despite all the (ahem) distractions, these 12 citizens good and true were not so easily swayed.

They clearly consulted the law: Under Maine statute, "pecuniary benefit" is but one of seven criteria that constitute promotion of prostitution; another is leasing "a place controlled by the defendant, alone or in association with others, to be regularly used for prostitution."

And tempting as it might have been to buy the defense argument that the police targeted Strong because he was looking into shenanigans in the department, the jury undoubtedly recognized the difference between solid evidence and so much smoke.

In short, these jurors did precisely what society asked them to do: Tune out the babble, focus on the facts and render a decision based not on conjecture, but simply on the law.

Better still, they did it in just 4½ hours of deliberations.

Wednesday afternoon, shortly after Justice Nancy Mills privately thanked the jurors for their service and dismissed them for the last time, a court officer emerged from the courthouse entrance and asked the media horde to respect their request to be left alone.

Then the door opened and, one by one, they emerged in single file and paraded past the cameras, the silence broken only by their footsteps on the gravelly parking lot.

End of story? Not by a long shot.

As prosecutors now set their sights on Wright (let's settle this one) and police resume issuing summonses to dozens of her alleged customers (any famous ones?), the grumbling will only grow louder:

Is this whole fiasco truly worth all the time and money it's consuming?

And what about Maine's prostitution law? Is it, as Lilley maintains, in need of a legislative overhaul?

Worthy questions all.

But before we hit the "resume" button on the Great Zumba Debate, let's pause long enough to applaud this jury for its hard work, long hours and, last but not least, its undivided attention.

It was enough to leave anyone speechless. 

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at


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