Separate trials for Wright, Strong

By Jeff Lagasse of Journal Tribune | Nov 16, 2012
Photo by: Jeff Lagasse/Journal Tribune

Kennebunk — Story provided by Journal Tribune.

Justice Nancy Mills of the Cumberland County Court has decided to allow Alexis Wright and Mark Strong, both charged in connection with the alleged prostitution operation run out of Wright’s Kennebunk Zumba fitness studio, to have separate trials.

Wright, 29, of Wells, the owner of the Pura Vida Studio, is alleged to have used the business as a front for prostitution, and secretly recording sexual encounters with clients. She faces 106 counts ranging from prostitution, violation of privacy and evasion of income tax.

Strong, 57, of Thomaston, faces 59 charges, including promotion of prostitution and violation of privacy.

Mills’ decision was in response to separate requests filed last week from Sarah Churchill, defense attorney for Wright, and Daniel Lilley, attorney for Strong.

Both Churchill and Lilley mention in their requests that Strong has filed a motion for a speedy trial, whereas Wright has not filed such a request with the court at this time.

“Defendant Wright also intends to file several pretrial motions challenging the evidence in this matter as well as the manner in which the prosecution of the case has proceeded,” wrote Churchill. “Those motions will take time to litigate and will impair Defendant Strong’s right to a speedy trial.”

“Furthermore,” she wrote, “at arraignment in this case the State indicated in open court that markers for child pornography were found on Defendant Strong’s computer. This information, not substantiated in discovery thus far, has been let loose upon the potential jury pool and as such has tainted Defendant Wright’s ability to gain a fair trial if sitting in a courtroom with Defendant Strong.”

Lilley, in his motion, argued that a joint trial would result in potential prejudice to one or both of the defendants, saying that the introduction of evidence or testimony at a joint trial “implicates a co-defendant and thus violates the co-defendant’s right to confront witnesses against him pursuant to the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution.”

Additionally, Lilley cites “guilt by association,” and “markedly different degrees of culpability between the defendants” as reasons to pursue separate trials in the matter.

Mills, in granting the separate trials, said in a court document released last week that “the two cases are on distinctly different courses,” and that many of the charges against Wright are not related to those against Strong. Namely, those charges allege that Wright, while operating the prostitution operation, illegally collected food stamps and other financial assistance from the state.

In the case against Wright, Mills filed a document stating that all remaining discovery evidence should be provided to Wright’s defense by Nov. 26. Wright has until March 26, 2013 to file motions, which will be heard on April 1 of that year. The case will appear on the May 2013 York County criminal trial list.

The decision to separate the trials comes on the heels of the revelation that four men have pleaded guilty to the charge of engaging a prostitute in connection with the case. Their names have not been released on the public safety logs issued bi-weekly by the Kennebunk Police Department.

York County Deputy District Attorney Justina McGettigan said Nov. 15 that their names had not been released in the logs because they had already pleaded guilty to the charges.

The men who pleaded guilty are: Benjamin Bouma, 40, of 26468 North 84th St., Peoria, Ariz.; Ryan P. Saucier, 31, of 45 Forest Ave., South Portland; Bradford Siegel, 56, of 14 Millridge Road, Cumberland; and Michael Sherwood, 53, of 1011 Washington St., Portland.

Saucier and Sherwood paid $970 in fines. Siegel paid $610, and Bouma paid $490.

Journal Tribune staff writer Jeff Lagasse can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 319 or jlagasse@journaltribune.com.

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