January 25, 2013

Highest court halts secret Kennebunk jury selection

Justices side with the newspaper and order the prostitution case screenings opened to the public.

By Edward D. Murphy emurphy@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Justice Nancy Mills listens to Daniel Lilley, attorney for Mark Strong, during a motion hearing at York County Superior Court in Alfred on Thursday.

Gregory Rec / Staff Photographer

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Defendant Mark Strong talks with his attorney Daniel Lilley during a motion hearing at York County Superior Court in Alfred on Thursday.

Gregory Rec / Staff Photographer

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PDF: Full text of ruling by Maine Supreme Judicial Court

In fact, Mills said earlier this week, in rejecting a motion by the Press Herald to open the proceedings, that the case had received widespread media attention and she had promised potential jurors confidentiality in an effort to make sure they answered questions honestly.

Each juror was asked to fill out a 10-page questionnaire asking their opinions on issues such as whether prostitution should be legal, their willingness to watch videotapes of sexual encounters and their exposure to publicity about the case.

They also were questioned about their opinions of religion, pornography, prostitution, adultery and government spending, according to a blank questionnaire that Mills distributed to the media.

"I can easily imagine that there is a concern that there isn't a big enough jury pool," Burke said, but selecting a jury openly will give the public more confidence that a correct verdict will be reached.

"They can say, 'Yeah, we saw that,' " he said.

Melvyn Zarr, another professor at the law school, said a quick review of the Supreme Court's ruling suggests that the justices are mindful of the difficulties of the trial.

"It's a situation in which everybody has heard about this, well beyond the confines of York County," Zarr said. "What (Mills) is trying to do is to adopt procedures that would get a fair jury."

Schutz said he, too, is aware that Mills is in charge of a case that has attracted international attention, but the test of a justice system often is "how we handle these high-profile cases."

While Mills has discretion in how to conduct the trial, Schutz said, "in this case, the closure went way too far."

Mills recessed the trial early Thursday afternoon and dismissed the jury pool for the rest of the day after hearing several motions from lawyers for the state and Strong, unrelated to jury selection.

She held a conference call with prosecutors and defense attorneys late Thursday afternoon to decide how to proceed.

The trial is expected to last about three weeks once a jury is chosen.

Strong has pleaded not guilty to 59 counts related to promoting prostitution and invasion of privacy.

Wright, 30, of Wells, is scheduled to stand trial on 106 counts in May. She has pleaded not guilty to all charges, including promotion of prostitution, engaging in prostitution, invasion of privacy, conspiracy, tax offenses and receiving welfare benefits when ineligible.

The case has drawn so much attention in part because Wright reportedly kept a meticulous list of more than 150 names of customers, including prominent figures.

Affidavits filed by police indicate that Strong may have helped Wright videotape encounters with her customers.

So far, 66 people have been charged with being prostitution clients in the case. Eighteen men who have pleaded guilty or been found guilty of engaging Wright for prostitution are on the prosecution's witness list for Strong's trial.

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

emurphy@pressherald.com

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Today's poll: Zumba trial

Do you agree with the Maine Supreme Judicial Court's decision to end the secret jury selection process in the Kennebunk prostitution trial?

Yes

No

View Results