ALFRED, Maine — A judge on Thursday said convicted prostitute Alexis Wright can be called by the state to testify in the upcoming trial of an alleged john — but she doesn’t have to answer questions.
Wright, 30, of Wells, can invoke her Fifth Amendment right, Justice Roland Cole decided during a hearing Thursday, citing concerns that Wright’s testimony could open her up to further charges.
“I see several different ways that [Wright] could face liability for perjury,” Cole said.
Wright, who is three months into a 10-month sentence at the York County Jail after pleading guilty to 20 counts related to prostitution and tax-related offenses, was subpoenaed by prosecutors to testify during the trial of 53-year-old Donald Hill of Old Orchard Beach.
Hill, Kennebunk High School’s former hockey coach, has pleaded not guilty to the charge, stating he believed he and Wright had a relationship.
Wright, who ran a prostitution operation out of her former Kennebunk Zumba studio for more than a year-and-a-half with business partner Mark Strong, 57, of Thomaston, was transported from jail to appear in York County Superior Court wearing glasses, an orange jumpsuit, no makeup and straight hair — a stark contrast from Wright’s usual primped appearance and business attire.
She kept her head down during most of her time in the courtroom, appearing to shake her head at one point when prosecutors spoke of her belief that she was working as a secret operative for the state to catch sexual deviants.
Under oath, Wright, who identified herself as Alexis Sandra Trowbridge (her married name) would only point out Hill, saying, “I exercise my right to remain silent,” when asked a series of questions by Assistant District Attorney Patrick Gordon.
Wright’s husband, Jayson Trowbridge, quietly observed Thursday’s hearing.
Sarah Churchill, Wright’s attorney, said her client would not answer questions of substance surrounding the prostitution business, her relationship with Mark Strong or Donald Hill, as she could perjure herself.
While a letter from the U.S. Attorney’s Office to Deputy District Attorney Justina McGettigan stated Wright would not be prosecuted for new offenses, Churchill said she does not believe that insulates Wright from federal charges.
“I think the perjury concern is real,” Churchill said.
In addition, prosecutors plan to use Wright as a witness but they have questioned Wright’s defense that she was working as a secret operative for the state, Churchill said.
Prosecutors argued that there is no reason for Wright to fear further prosecution as she would be testifying to crimes she has already pled guilty to.
“At this point, there is no real danger,” Gordon said. “What she’s told us is that she believed she was doing these things. We did not believe she was doing those things. That doesn’t mean we don’t believe she held that belief. We know she was not an agent for the state, we know that for a fact. However, we are not sitting here saying we don’t believe she thinks she was.”
Hill’s attorney, Gary Prolman, said he believes Wright has “a lot of potential liability,” based on his cross examination, which he said could lead her to face federal charges, as it could touch upon potential extortion and wire fraud, among other things.
“I can assure you, your honor, I’m not going to skirt my responsibility in cross-examining her. I am going to explore every possible venue to defend my client,” Prolman said. “The way this is all shaping up is that if Ms. Wright decides that she’s going to say one thing that the state doesn’t agree on it and they think she’s perjuring herself, the bottom line is that they can charge her again. It’s not about her. This is about my client getting a fair and impartial jury trial. We need to have that.”
Following the hearing on Wright’s testimony, Prolman raised concerns about discovery items he has not received prior to the trial, including emails between Wright and Strong which he believe might detail the establishment of the prostitution business, a chain of custody for Strong’s computer where images of Hill were obtained, and the personnel file of Audra Presby, the investigating officer for the Kennebunk Police Department.
Prolman said he believes Presby used the investigation into Wright and Strong’s activities, as well as alleged clients, to “climb the ladder.”
“This case will put her in the spotlight, and there have been other situations that I believe she has had with the [Kennebunk Police Department] where potentially she was trying to climb up the ladder,” Prolman said. “If she brings home a big case she’s going to be a star there. I think it’s motive for her in her investigative work in how she was reviewing the case.”
While Presby’s motive was questioned in Strong’s trial, with Strong arguing the charges against him were in retaliation for an investigation he was conducting into the department, prosecutors said there is no such motive between Presby and Hill.
Cole said he would review Presby’s personnel file and make a subsequent ruling during a hearing to begin at 8 a.m. Friday morning in York County Superior Court. Cole said discussions on jury selection would also take place at that time.
Approximately 114 people have been called as members of a potential jury pool to appear in court Monday.
Hill was present Thursday but did not speak before the judge.
Wright avoided her own trial by pleading guilty in May to 20 counts related to prostitution, theft by deception and evasion of income tax. She was sentenced to 10 months in jail and ordered to pay more than $58,000 in fines and restitution.
Strong was convicted in March of promotion of prostitution and served his 15-day jail sentence, which was reduced from 20 days.
Hill was seen on a TLC documentary, “ Sex, Lies and Zumba,” which aired Aug. 6, saying he thought he and Wright were dating.
“When you’re 52 and divorced and a young, good looking girl acts like she’s interested in you, you want to believe it,” Hill said in the documentary. “I shouldn’t have.”
Also called to testify at Hill’s trial are Kennebunk Police Officer Audra Presby, Detective Fred Williams, and Detective Mark Holmquist, all of whom testified at Strong’s trial.
Cole said Thursday that Strong has also been subpoenaed.