February 21, 2013

Strong was smitten lover, not 'pimp,' lawyer says

By Scott Dolan sdolan@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

ALFRED — An attorney for one of the major defendants in the Kennebunk prostitution case told a jury Wednesday that Mark Strong Sr. had an extramarital affair with Alexis Wright but wasn't her "pimp," as police allege.

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Mark Strong Sr. listens to opening statements Wednesday during the first day of his trial in the Kennebunk prostitution case.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Staff Photographer

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York County Deputy District Attorney Justina McGettigan delivers her opening statements on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Staff Photographer

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In his opening statement in Strong's trial, Daniel Lilley said pimps usually bring customers to prostitutes for a profit, but Strong neither paid for sex nor profited from his relationship with Wright.

"Did he promote prostitution or did he fall in love and have an extramarital affair with a woman, including sex, but not for money, and help her with her life?" Lilley asked in York County Superior Court. "Affairs are bad decisions perhaps, but not crimes."

Deputy District Attorney Justina McGettigan told jurors in her opening statement that they could expect to hear from police who raided Wright's and Strong's properties, and from witnesses who saw men frequenting her Zumba studio in the daytime.

"Men would go in singly. And then at night, (the witnesses) would see people coming for dance lessons. That's when the lights were on and the shades were up. But during the day, that's when things were dark," McGettigan said. "Mr. Strong was aiding Ms. Wright in her business of being a prostitute in Kennebunk."

McGettigan said Strong and Wright communicated by text and phone and video chats on the days her prostitution customers visited her.

Testimony from witnesses is expected to begin Thursday morning. The trial is expected to take three weeks.

The opening statements in Strong's trial, the first in the case since the scandal broke last year, came after the lawyers finished a jury selection process that took nearly a month.

Jury selection began on Jan. 22, stalled after three days, then resumed Wednesday morning. The 16-person jury, including the four alternates, comprises 10 men and six women.

Jury selection began behind closed doors but a legal challenge by the Portland Press Herald halted the secret proceedings. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court agreed with the newspaper's appeal on constitutional grounds.

On Wednesday, Justice Nancy Mills invited members of the media to sit in on a court proceeding, then invited them to reconvene in an upstairs library for individual questioning of prospective jurors.

The prosecutors and Strong's lawyers had selected 23 of the 250 potential jurors as finalists before the process was halted by the Press Herald's appeal.

While awaiting the high court's decision last month, Mills acted on a motion by Strong's attorneys and dismissed 46 of the 59 counts against him.

In seeking the dismissal of charges related to violation of privacy, for Strong's alleged role in recording prostitution clients, Lilley argued that people who break the law by paying for sex can't have an expectation of privacy.

Mills agreed, and prosecutors appealed to the Supreme Court, stopping the trial again before jury selection could resume.

Last week, the court upheld Mills's decision to dismiss the 46 counts, clearing the way for Strong's trial to resume on 12 counts of promotion of prostitution and one count of conspiring with Wright to promote prostitution.

On Wednesday, one potential juror who was questioned was a man who owns a landscaping business in Kennebunk. He said he feels strongly that prostitution should be legal.

"I've always believed that. I've never wavered from that opinion," said the man, identified only as juror number 65.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Mark Strong Sr.'s attorney Daniel Lilley gives his opening statements in the Kennebunk prostitution case in York County Superior Court on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Staff Photographer


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