Friday, March 7, 2014
PORTLAND — Alexis Wright, the central figure in the Kennebunk prostitution case, arrived at court with her attorney Friday morning surrounded by news cameras as they went in for a second round of plea negotiations in Cumberland County Unified Criminal Court.
Alexis Wright and her attorney, Sarah Churchill, arrive at the Cumberland County Courthouse in Portland on Friday.
John Patriquin / Staff Photographer
Tim Greenway / Staff Photographer
Wright and her attorney, Sarah Churchill, and York County prosecutors last negotiated for five hours on March 13 without reaching an agreement.
Wright, dressed in a black and white patterned skirt and black jacket, had to sidestep a television cameraman blocking her path into the courthouse. They spoke briefly with security guards inside, who asked how she was.
“Just peachy,” Wright replied as she passed through the metal detector.
The two sides are meeting in negotiations behind closed doors with a judge, out of sight from the public.
If the two sides reach an agreement, the case against Wright, 30, could be resolved by the end of the day, ending the high-profile criminal prosecution that began with a raid on Valentine’s Day 2012 at her Zumba studio and business office in Kennebunk and her home in Wells.
Wright is accused of conspiring with Mark Strong Sr., 57, of Thomaston to run a one-woman prostitution business from the Zumba studio, keeping extensive records and video recordings of her sex acts with customers.
She has pleaded not guilty to 106 counts, including several felony counts, the most serious of which is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Strong was convicted earlier this month in York County Superior Court of 13 misdemeanors -- 12 counts of promotion of prostitution and one count of conspiracy with Wright.
Strong was sentenced on March 21 to serve 20 days in jail and pay a $3,000 fine. This week, he withdrew an appeal seeking to overturn the jury’s verdicts.
That clears the way for prosecutors to call him as a witness if Wright goes to trial, now that his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination no longer apply.
Churchill and Deputy District Attorney Justina McGettigan declined to comment on Friday’s talks.
Jim Burke, a professor at the University of Maine School of Law, said Strong could be called to testify if Wright goes on trial. His right not to testify would apply only to matters unrelated to the prostitution case against him.
“He has no Fifth Amendment rights for the actions of which he has been convicted,” Burke said.
The evidence presented at Strong’s trial is particularly damning for Wright. One explicit video, which was played for the jury in Strong’s trial, shows her having sex with a man and then collecting a stack of cash from him.
The prostitution-related charges against her -- promotion of prostitution, engaging in prostitution, violation of privacy and conspiracy -- are not felonies.
The felony charges -- two counts of theft by deception and one count of evasion of income tax -- carry as much as 10 years in prison and $20,000 in fines.
Wright is alleged to have received more than $10,000 in state aid, including food stamps, for which she was not eligible because of her income from prostitution.
Burke said the plea negotiation in Wright’s case is different from similar talks in most criminal cases because a judge is sitting in with Wright’s attorney and the prosecutors, mediating.
“The only way it won’t settle is (if) the two sides, the state and the defense, can’t come up with an agreement,” Burke said. “It might not settle if the zone of risk of going to trial is less than any deal being put on the table.”
Burke said such cases usually go to trial only when “each side has made a calculation that they might do better by rolling the dice; or they might do worse but it’s worth it.
“It could also be because one side is being completely unreasonable,” he said.
Scott Dolan can be contacted at 791-6304 or at: