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Trial Starts in Case of Upscale Escort Service

Deborah Jeane Palfrey and her mother, Blanche Palfrey, arrive at the D.C. courthouse.
Deborah Jeane Palfrey and her mother, Blanche Palfrey, arrive at the D.C. courthouse. (By Kevin Clark -- The Washington Post)
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As for the sex acts that the government alleges occurred, Burton said: "The people who decided what to do in those rooms . . . were all adults. Educated adults. Consenting adults. They decided what to do." Burton suggested that prosecutors have been overzealous in subpoenaing the escorts and clients and granting them immunity. The immunity will prevent them from invoking the 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination and declining to testify.

"Their lives in many instances are going to be ruined," he said.

Connelly said Palfrey advertised for escorts and clients in various publications, including Washington City Paper and the student newspaper at the University of Maryland in College Park. Women who applied by mailing photos and résumés to Palfrey were not necessarily aware that the service involved prostitution, Connelly said.

Authorities have said in court filings that Palfrey sought educated, socially refined young woman and that many of her escorts held professional jobs during the day.

After applying, Connelly said, women were required to meet with testers in the Washington area, men described by Connelly as "trusted, longtime clients" of Palfrey's service. The clients not only would verify for Palfrey that the women were attractive and skilled at legal sexual game-playing but also would "test" them by offering to pay for sex acts, Connelly said. She said women who passed the tests were hired.

The service employed "dozens of escorts" over the years and had "hundreds of clients . . . who paid thousands and thousands of dollars for sex," Connelly said.

She said the escorts, most of whom worked about three nights a week, sometimes meeting with several men per night, kept half the money paid by clients and mailed the rest to Palfrey in California in the form of postal money orders.

Palfrey was "the head, the mastermind, the madam," Connelly told the jury.

Burton denied the description. He said that Palfrey required all the women who worked for her to sign contracts, agreeing to abide by several rules. He gave jurors a PowerPoint presentation, showing them the contract and highlighting rule No. 5: "Individuals caught performing illegal activities of any nature will be terminated."

"That's not what an illegal business does," Burton said.

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