ALFRED, Maine — Jury selection is scheduled to begin this morning in the trial of Mark Strong, a Thomaston businessman who is accused of conspiring with a Kennebunk fitness instructor to run a prostitution business.
The challenge facing attorneys in the case, according to a motion filed by Defense Attorney Daniel Lilley, will be finding jurors who haven’t been swayed by the intense media coverage of the scandal or who don’t know one of the dozens of individuals who have been charged with paying for sex in the sprawling case.
Superior Court Justice Nancy Mills said 250 jury summonses were distributed in York County, where Lilley has told the court his client can’t possibly receive a fair trial.
Justice Mills is not allowing the public or media in the courtroom for jury selection, citing capacity issues.
The courtroom holds 111, according to a previous court order, and 250 jury summonses have been distributed in York County — although not all who receive summonses can attend.
Mills warned in a Jan. 18 order that she might restrict access to the jury selection portion of the trial.
Earlier this month, Mills denied Lilley’s motion to change the venue of the trial.
“[Strong] will be unduly prejudiced if he is forced to choose from a jury pool in York County that has been tainted not only by the media frenzy but also because of the likelihood that the jurors will know at least one person involved in the case personally,” Lilley wrote in his motion.
That same argument was used, in part, to assign Mills, a Cumberland County Superior Court justice, to the case instead of a York County counterpart.
The trial is expected by some to go as long as two or three weeks. Prosecutors from the York County District Attorney’s office have submitted a list of more than 50 individuals they plan to call as witnesses, including multiple law enforcement representatives and men who have been convicted of engaging a prostitute in the case.
Strong, 57, faces 59 counts — mostly charges of promotion of prostitution — in the high profilecase, in which he allegedly worked with fitness instructor Alexis Wright to set up a prostitution business out of her Kennebunk Zumba studio. Both Strong, who runs an insurance business, and Wright have pleaded not guilty to the charges against them in their respective cases.
Wright faces a separate trial, scheduled to begin in May.
Mills has denied motions filed in recent weeks by Lilley to dismiss the charges, suppress evidence, delay the start of the trial until at least Feb. 19, and change the location of the trial. She also on Friday denied Lilley’s motion to withdraw from the case, saying Strong is not adequately trained to defend himself in the sprawling, complicated prostitution case.
Lilley had filed the motion to withdraw, in part, because he said Strong no longer has the financial resources to pay him, nor to afford expert witnesses to testify in his behalf. The defense attorney told the court that Strong’s bank accounts are further taxed by a recent lawsuit brought against him and Wright by the landlord of the building where the fitness studio was, alleging that the pair owe back rent and property taxes.