ALFRED, Maine — For Kennebunk police Patrol Officer Audra Presby, the guilty verdict in the high-profile Mark Strong Sr. trial was “true vindication.”
Strong and his defense attorneys in the case regularly targeted the backgrounds of Presby and other members of the department in an attempt to shake their credibility in the eyes of jurors during the 10-day trial.
Strong was convicted of 12 counts of promotion of prostitution and one count of conspiracy to promote prostitution after just less than five hours of deliberation on Wednesday.
“It’s hard when you have personal attacks, but we stayed true to ourselves,” Kennebunk police Chief Robert MacKenzie told reporters outside the York County courthouse Wednesday afternoon. “I am really proud of Officer Presby and how she conducted herself.”
Strong’s team during the months leading into the trial and throughout the proceedings maintained that the Thomaston insurance agent and part-time private investigator had been charged in the case as police retaliation. Strong argued that he was researching past misconduct by Presby and others at the department when he was arrested and charged with promotion of prostitution in July 2012.
Defense attorney Daniel Lilley repeatedly asked law enforcement officials on the witness stand about a Toshiba external hard drive seized from Strong’s Thomaston property, and why Presby was allowed to take possession of the hard drive when all other computer evidence taken from the scene was kept at the Maine State Police barracks in Gray.
Lilley called on the state police detectives to acknowledge that Strong’s brother, an attorney, told them during the July execution of the search warrants that “embarrassing” information about the Kennebunk police may be on Strong’s computer equipment, and that Presby should not be allowed to handle it unsupervised. Lilley suggested that Presby, by taking the hard drive, had the motive and opportunity to tamper with the evidence to prevent Strong’s investigation from coming to light.
But York County Deputy District Attorney Justina McGettigan told jurors Tuesday afternoon that the police payback narrative was a “diversion,” and said the nearly 14,000 images of Wright having sex with alleged johns found on Strong’s computers, as well as the content of more than 25,000 cellphone correspondences between the two, proved the Thomaston man played an active role in the prostitution business.
Kennebunk police Lt. Anthony Bean Burpee told reporters in October of last year that Presby’s 2009 affair with married then-supervisor Nicholas Higgins, as well as a 2011 fatal shooting of a knife-wielding woman by fellow officer Joshua Morneau, had already been covered by the local media and that police had nothing to gain by tampering with Strong’s alleged investigation. Bean Burpee said Presby received a reprimand for the affair, Higgins resigned from the department and Morneau’s shooting was deemed justified by the state attorney general’s office. The lieutenant said the past incidents had no bearing on the prostitution investigation.
With the guilty verdict on all 13 counts Wednesday, McGettigan said jurors “saw through” defense efforts to turn the case around onto the Kennebunk police.
“Law enforcement doesn’t come out here to play games,” Presby told reporters Wednesday afternoon. “I took my job seriously.”