ALFRED, Maine – The first man to go trial on charges that he patronized a prostitute who worked out of her Zumba dance studio contends he thought he was engaged in a romance.
Alexis Wright, the fitness instructor who pleaded guilty to running a prostitution business, doesn't have to answer questions from prosecutors at the trial of the alleged client, a judge said Thursday.
Prosecutors had wanted the 30-year-old Wright to testify in next week's trial of Donald Hill, a former Kennebunk High School hockey coach. Under oath Thursday, Wright declined to answer questions about him, other than to point him out.
"He thought he had a relationship with her," said his lawyer, Gary Prolman.
Hill pleaded not guilty to a single misdemeanor charge. If convicted, he could be fined as much as $1,000.
Justice Roland Cole ruled Wright didn't have to testify after her attorney argued her testimony could open her up to prosecution on new charges, including federal crimes and perjury.
"I'm going to uphold her right to plead the Fifth Amendment," Cole said, referring to her right to remain silent to avoid incriminating herself.
Wright, who's serving a 10-month sentence, appeared in court in an orange jail uniform with glasses and long straight hair, in contrast to her put-together professional outfits and flowing hair in previous appearances.
She gave a small wave to her husband, Jason Trowbridge, who sat in the courtroom. He later left without comment.
Wright avoided trial by pleading guilty to charges of promoting prostitution and engaging in prostitution, as well as several welfare- and tax-related charges.
The former single mother was accused of conspiring with insurance business owner Mark Strong to run a prostitution business in which she videotaped clients without their knowledge and kept detailed records over an 18-month period indicating she made $150,000 tax-free. She also collected more than $40,000 in public assistance.
The case gained attention because of Kennebunk's New England charm and the large number of clients -- up to 150 of them -- including a former mayor, a minister, a lawyer and a firefighter.
So far, 68 people have been charged with paying Wright for sex. At least 58 have pleaded guilty or no contest. The 53-year-old Hill is the first alleged client to go to trial.
Wright was originally charged with 106 counts. Under a plea agreement, those were reduced to 20 counts including prostitution, conspiracy, tax evasion and theft by deception.
Strong, 57, of Thomaston, was convicted of 13 counts related to promotion of prostitution. The married father of two was sentenced to 20 days in jail.