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Jury selection still on hold in Zumba trial

  • Article by: DAVID SHARP
  • Associated Press
  • January 28, 2013 - 3:28 PM

ALFRED, Maine - The defense and the judge aren't happy with delays in the trial of the business partner in a prostitution scandal at a Zumba studio. Prosecutors aren't happy, either, after the judge dismissed nearly four dozen charges.

But the unhappiest group of all may be the remaining members of the jury pool, who've gone five days without a jury being selected. Much of that time was spent hidden away in the courthouse basement last week.

"They hate waiting," said jury expert Valerie Hans of Cornell University Law School. "I'm thinking jurors would rather be in a courtroom listening to really challenging and difficult testimony rather than just waiting around."

Jury selection in the trial of Mark Strong Sr. came to an abrupt halt Friday after the judge dismissed 46 of 59 counts and prosecutors appealed. On Monday, remaining members of the jury pool were told to stay home.

Strong's lawyers expressed fear that the jurors could make the defendant a target of their frustration.

"There's no doubt they could take it out on him," defense lawyer Tina Nadeau told the judge.

Strong, 57, of Thomaston, was originally charged with 59 misdemeanor counts including conspiring with dance instructor Alexis Wright, who's accused of using her Kennebunk dance studio as a prostitution front.

Prosecutors say prostitution clients were videotaped without their knowledge, and the dismissed charges related to invasion of privacy. The remaining 13 counts focus on prostitution.

Potential jurors encountered their first delay Thursday when the Portland Press Herald sued over the judge's closed-door questioning of more than 140 potential jurors. The state supreme court ordered the judge to conduct the process in open court.

Remaining members of the jury pool reported back to duty Friday, only to be sent home again because of prosecutors' appeal.

On Monday, the trial judge was given the green light to decide whether to proceed on the remaining charges. The judge ordered a hearing Tuesday on a motion to divide the case into two pieces and continue with 13 remaining counts while the state appeals her decision to dismiss 46 other counts.

It remained unclear when jury selection might resume.

Hans, a Cornell law school professor who has surveyed jurors on their experiences, said the judge in such cases can appease prospective jurors by keeping them updated on the proceedings, and explaining the importance of their job.

Even then, prospective jurors and jurors have limits to their patience, though she said there's no research to suggest that they'd punish a defendant for wasting their time.

As for the prospective jurors, they're off-limits to reporters, so no one really knows what they're thinking.

Strong, a married insurance agent, has acknowledged having a physical relationship with Wright after helping her launch her Pura Vida fitness studio by co-signing her lease and loaning her money that she repaid with interest. He said he never paid her for sex and was unaware of any prostitution.

Police said Wright videotaped many of the encounters without clients' knowledge and kept records suggesting the sex acts generated $150,000 over 18 months.

Wright faces 106 counts including prostitution and invasion of privacy for acts performed in her dance studio and in a rented office. She'll be tried later.

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