PORTLAND, Maine — The first trial of an accused client of a fitness instructor who used her Zumba studio as a front for prostitution ended abruptly when a judge threw out key evidence, but prosecutors said they're prepared to move forward with another eight cases in which defendants sought jury trials.
The trial of former Kennebunk High School hockey coach Don Hill ended in acquittal Tuesday when Justice Roland Cole barred prosecutors from showing jurors Alexis Wright's business ledger. The judge previously ruled that Wright didn't have to answer questions in the trial in Alfred.
Without Wright's testimony or her ledger, prosecutors were left with only graphic photos of the two engaging in sex but no proof of money changing hands, the judge said.
"We believed the evidence was admissible. The judge disagreed and we respect the judge's decision and we'll move on to the next case," said Deputy District Attorney Justina McGettigan.
Defense lawyer Gary Prolman said he and Hill are "ecstatic" about the outcome of the case. "It has been a long time coming," he said.
"From day one (Hill) has said there was never sex for money."
The trial became testy with Prolman suggesting the ledger was mishandled by law enforcement officials and calling into question the chain of custody.
Prolman told jurors in York County Superior Court in his opening statement Monday that Hill believed he was in a relationship with Wright and that he never paid her for sex.
The prostitution scandal in the quiet seaside community of Kennebunk gained attention because of the large number of clients – as many as 150 – many of whom were videotaped without their knowledge. Clients included a former mayor, a minister, a lawyer and a firefighter.
Hill, 53, of Old Orchard Beach, was one of 68 people charged so far with paying for sex with Wright. Fifty-nine of them have pleaded guilty or no contest.
The judge's ruling and order of acquittal don't affect the state's case against the eight other alleged clients who have requested jury trials, McGettigan said.
But prosecutors will evaluate whether there's video or photographic proof of money changing hands before bringing charges in 40 other cases that are still pending, she said.
Wright, 30, of Wells, avoided trial by pleading guilty to charges of prostitution, as well as several welfare- and tax-related charges.
Wright, who's serving a 10-month sentence, pointed out Hill in the courtroom but wasn't required to testify about the nature of their relationship. Wright's business partner, Mark Strong, 57, of Thomaston, also testified briefly.
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