June 22, 2018
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Prosecution rests in Kennebunk Zumba prostitution trial; defendant Mark Strong may testify

Seth Koenig | BDN
Seth Koenig | BDN
Mark Strong Sr., defendant in the first of two major trial in the high-profile Kennebunk Zumba prostitution case, stops to field a few brief questions from reporters before getting into his vehicle to leave the York County courthouse Monday. Strong's attorney, Daniel Lilley, has said Strong may take the witness stand under certain conditions. The trial is expected wrap up this week.
By Seth Koenig, BDN Staff

ALFRED, Maine — Defendant Mark Strong Sr. may take the witness stand in the first of two major trials in the high-profile Kennebunk Zumba prostitution trial, in which the prosecution rested its case Monday.

The trial of Strong, a Thomaston insurance broker and part-time private investigator accused of helping fitness instructor Alexis Wright run a prostitution business out of her Kennebunk Zumba studio, is now rapidly spiraling toward conclusion. The prosecution abruptly concluded its case just before the court broke for lunch late Monday morning, and defense attorney Daniel Lilley said he expected to rest his case Tuesday morning.

That potentially quick end to the case stands in contrast with the trial’s labored prologue, in which jury selection took four days stretched out over more than four weeks, and pretrial motions were on two occasions appealed to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

The prosecution rested in the case without calling any of the 18 convicted johns originally on its witness list to testify. Attorneys on both sides agreed to a stipulation Monday conceding that the johns in question paid Alexis Wright for sex, but never saw or interacted with Strong.

Lilley hopes that by the time of closing arguments he will be fighting only one charge in the case.

Strong’s team filed a motion to dismiss 12 of the 13 remaining charges before the lunch break. The defense already has successfully gotten 46 privacy invasion charges against the Thomaston man thrown out and has pressed Superior Court Justice Nancy Mills on at least two subsequent occasions to drop the charges related to promotion of prostitution, as well.

Lilley told Mills after the jury was excused for lunch Monday that he may call Strong himself to testify before he wraps up his case on Tuesday morning, but only if the judge allows the testimony to be limited to the verification of certain documents.

The defense hopes to convince jurors that Strong was charged in the case as retaliation for an investigation he was doing into past misconduct by members of the Kennebunk Police Department, including Audra Presby, a key witness and patrol officer.

To that end, Lilley questioned Presby about notes found during a search of Strong’s insurance agency in which her 2009 affair with married then-supervisor Nicholas Higgins apparently was referenced, but the judge upheld prosecution objections to follow-up questions about what Presby thought that Strong was intending with the notes. Mills agreed with prosecutors’ contention that Presby commenting on Strong’s plans for the notes would qualify as speculation or hearsay.

As a result, to essentially prove to the jury that Strong indeed was investigating police misconduct, Lilley has opened the door to calling him to the witness stand to speak on the issue firsthand. But the defense attorney said he would do so only if the judge blocked questioning beyond the verification of the documents in question.

In the defense’s latest motion to dismiss, Lilley argued that the very charges of promotion of prostitution are “constitutionally defective.” The defense did not ask Mills to throw out the one count of conspiracy to promote prostitution.

Mills didn’t rule on the motion to dismiss or on any conditions she might impose on the possible testimony of Strong. She is expected to do so Tuesday.

Lilley has directed his argument on alleged police payback as well as the notion that Strong has not financially benefited from the alleged prostitution business nor directed clients toward Wright. However, in his motion to dismiss, he acknowledged that the state law counts many varied activities — including “causing or aiding another to commit or engage in prostitution — other than as a patron” among the qualifications for “promotion of prostitution.”

“The prejudice Strong has suffered in this trial because of these defective pleadings is apparent: he and his team have had to prepare defenses to each and every possible element of these crimes as alleged, as the state has never articulated which exact provisions of [the law] were applicable in these various time frames and for each count,” the motion to dismiss reads, in part.

“One juror expressed concerns to this court that the term ‘promotion’ meant very little to her when the charges were read, to the point where she did not understand what those charges meant,” the document later continues. “There is a sincere risk that other jurors could be similarly confused because of the broadness and vagueness of the language of the indictment, which would prejudice defendant Strong.”

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