ALFRED, Maine — In a video shown to jurors Wednesday afternoon, a woman identified as accused prostitute and Kennebunk fitness instructor Alexis Wright dropped her towel and stood naked in her storefront window to attract the attention of men apparently working across the street.
The 1-minute, 45-second video accompanied about 100 printouts of digital images, allegedly depicting Wright and various men engaged in sex acts, as evidence turned over to the jury in the first of two major trials in the high-profile Kennebunk prostitution case.
Absent from the video or the images, however, was Mark Strong Sr., the Thomaston insurance broker and part-time private investigator on trial. Strong faces 12 counts of promotion of prostitution and one count of conspiracy to promote prostitution for allegedly helping Wright run a prostitution business from her Kennebunk Zumba studio.
Daniel Lilley, representing Strong in the case, made a blanket objection to the images and then to the video, the latter of which was found on one of Wright’s external hard drives during the investigation. Lilley argued that since the video was not seized from Strong and did not depict him, it should not be introduced as evidence in Strong’s trial.
The video, in which a woman identified by Saco police Detective Frederick Williams as Wright, represented the second time in the trial the jury saw or heard of the accused prostitute dropping her towel, allegedly for attention.
During the first day of testimony in the trial last week, witness Dan Racaniello, manager of a pizza parlor that neighbored Wright’s former Pura Vida dance studio on York Street, told jurors she met him at the door wearing only a towel one night when he was delivering a spaghetti and meatball meal. Racaniello said Wright invited him inside, dropped her towel, approached him naked and gave him a tip of more than $40, but that he resisted what he felt were sexual advances.
In the video shown Wednesday afternoon, the woman identified as Wright is seen inside what appears to be her Zumba studio, during daylight hours, in a towel.The woman steps up on a chair in front of the storefront windows and takes down a paper sign hanging in the window, all the while talking about getting the attention of men who appear to be working across the street.
“I’m going to try and get them to come over and have some fun,” the woman in the video says to the camera. After making sure the men are looking, and while still standing on the chair, she then drops her towel.
“He’s taken notice. They’ve both taken notice,” she said in the video. “And now they’re watching.”
The introduction of sexually explicit evidence in the trial has been a point of contention.
Superior Court Justice Nancy Mills on Wednesday afternoon allowed about 100 sexually explicit images to be turned over to the jury only after more than two days of sporadic debate between attorneys in the case.
The printouts of digital screenshots were passed around among jurors in the jury box, who showed little expression as each picture passed hands.
The jury was released early on Tuesday to provide Mills and the attorneys more time to discuss how many — and which — sexually explicit images to allow in the trial. The start of the trial on Wednesday was delayed by another hour while the discussion continued on that front.
“I looked at every photograph this morning — and I understand [prosecutors] have 577 of them — and I think showing every one of them is unnecessary and prejudicial,” Mills told the attorneys during the morning session, before jurors were invited into the courtroom.
The judge asked prosecutors to select a few “representative” images from each of several batches of images, taken from different encounters between Wright and alleged johns. The judge and defense attorneys then are expected to review the prosecution’s whittled-down selection of images and come to an agreement about the number and selection.
That agreement was proving hard to come by as exchanges between the defense and the prosecution took on terse, heated tones. Deputy District Attorney Justina McGettigan said her team had cut its list of images depicting the alleged exchange of money between Wright and the accused johns to 15 pictures, but defense co-counsel Tina Nadeau said the Strong team would agree to only three of them.
The gap was wider on how many images depicting sex acts should be allowed, with McGettigan proposing “significantly fewer” than the stack of 577 previously referenced, and the defense still opposing all of them. That group of 577 images already is cut down from a larger group of more than 13,000 such images, prosecutors said Wednesday.
Lilley told the court that even if some of the explicit images are allowed, many are taken of the same men apparently during the same alleged session with Wright, and said allowing pictures showing multiple “events” in the same encounter is unnecessary.
“As long as you can see it’s a sexual act [that took place], you don’t need every event,” Lilley said.
Upon their arrival in the courtroom Wednesday, the jurors had received their first exposure to electronic evidence, hearing a detective’s testimony about text messages and emails exchanged between defendant Strong Sr.’s phone and that of accused partner and alleged prostitute Alexis Wright.
In the morning, after an hourlong delay while the defense and prosecution met in the judge’s chambers to continue debate on the sexual images, jurors entered the second-floor courtroom at the York County courthouse to hear continued testimony by Detective Frederick Williams of the Saco Police Department.
Williams had testified previously in the trial, but was recalled by prosecutors on Wednesday to discuss text messages allegedly exchanged between Strong and Wright.
During a brief description by Williams of how police investigators obtained Wright’s cellphone and extracted her text messaging history, the jurors were given packets of papers supposedly showing the content of the texts exchanged. The same packets were not immediately distributed to members of the media or public. Court personnel told reporters that evidence will not be released publicly until after the trial.
Detective Lenny Bolton of the Maine State Police testified Tuesday that from Feb. 10, 2010, to Feb. 28, 2012, 13,289 text messages were sent from phone numbers associated with Wright to phone numbers associated with Strong. Bolton said during the same time frame, 7,625 text messages were sent from Strong phones to Wright phones.
Those text messages contributed to 25,111 total text and phone call exchanges between phones associated with Wright and Strong during the 789-day period, Bolton testified.
Strong faces 12 counts of promotion of prostitution and one count of conspiracy to promote prostitution, accused of conspiring with Wright to organize a prostitution business out of her Kennebunk Zumba studio. Wright faces a separate trial scheduled to begin later this spring.