Black guilty of all counts
Rockland — A jury of 11 women and one man deliberated for an hour and a half July 21 before finding Charles Reed Black, the former Camden man accused of trying to kill his then-wife by pushing her off Maiden Cliff, guilty of all charges.
Prosecutors said Black, 71, wanted his former wife dead so he could the reap benefits of her healthy financial situation and start a new life with a mistress he had recently started an affair with. He was convicted of attempted murder, two counts of elevated aggravated assault and three counts of aggravated assault.
Attempted murder and elevated aggravated assault crimes carry a sentence of up to 30 years. District Attorney Geoffrey Rushlau said the sentence imposed on Black will likely be a life sentence due to his age.
Black's former wife, Lisa Zahn, 55, of Camden cried and hugged former Maine State Police Detective Dean Jackson, prosecutors Geoffrey Rushlau and Christopher Fernald after the verdict was read. Her two daughters were by her side.
Black appeared emotionless and was led from the courtroom to the Knox County Jail where he will be held pending a sentencing hearing.
Defense attorney Walt McKee said he is disappointed by the verdict, and believed there was sufficient reasonable doubt. He said he is not sure at this time if he will appeal the verdict.
In closing arguments, McKee argued there were 10 points in the case jurors could find doubt in, including Black's injuries, his continued denial of pushing Zahn off the cliff, and the limited amount of blood belonging to Zahn on Black's clothing if the claims against his client were accurate.
Rushlau said although the evidence the state had was strong and compelling, he was a bit surprised the jury reached a verdict so quickly because of the necessary legal analysis they needed to sift through due to the amount of charges.
The work done on the case was a team effort, he said.
"It was not a simple and straight forward case," Rushlau said, citing organization of the witnesses and evidence.
Fernald said Zahn's testimony was a crucial element of the case. Black declined to testify.
Zahn testified July 16 about the attack and her subsequent ordeal to get off the mountain and seek help. She said the force of the blows knocked her to the ground. Black then grabbed her wrist and began to drag her off the mountain.
"I thought, I have about eight to 10 seconds left on this earth, and I didn't get a chance to say goodbye," she said.
Black's eyes were vacant as he dragged her closer to cliff edge, she said.
The victim said she tried to bite Black in an attempt to free herself, but was forced off the cliff and fell about 10 feet down to a ledge, where she considered playing dead. When she heard rustling above her, she said she knew she had to get down the mountain for fear he was coming to finish her off.
Zahn clung to tree roots and then dropped about 35 feet to the ground. She then proceeded to go down the mountain, using trees to balance herself until she reached Route 52 and flagged down help.
Black at one point tumbled past her in what she described as a horrifying sight, his body akin to a pinball, hitting trees and rocks. Zahn said he yelled to her as she was going down the mountain, asking her to help him down the mountain, and pleading that she not leave him. She said she told him she was not certain she could make it down herself, as she had lost a lot of blood and was feeling weak. Zahn also told the court she was scared to go near him.
After the fall, both Zahn and Black were taken by LifeFlight helicopters to Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor and were treated for more than a week. Zahn had a broken sternum, broken ribs, a punctured lung, and three deep lacerations on her head; one wound went down to her skull. Black also had lacerations on his head and a collapsed lung.
When Black was interviewed by police while at the hospital, he said he did not remember striking his wife or pushing her off the cliff. In the recorded interview, he asked why he would do something like that to his stepdaughters, his own son and grandchildren.
Police asked whether Black thought his wife would make up the allegations against him, to which he said no, telling detectives Zahn was a truthful person.
Black and Zahn met through a bicycle club, and were acquaintances for about six years until they became romantically involved. Nine days after their first date, Black asked Zahn to marry him. Four months later, they were married. The Blacks divorced in September 2012 after seven years of marriage and Zahn changed her name.
As part of the divorce settlement, Zahn kept the property in Camden, but had to pay Black $75,000. Black also was given a Mini Cooper car, various family heirlooms, mementos and two rifles.
Zahn said the marriage was happy at first, and she described Black as charismatic and adventurous.
The couple was in debt about $120,000, but when Zahn's father died in 2010, she inherited several million dollars in real estate, IRA funds, stocks, and life insurance policies. One policy, totaling $1 million, was paid outright and the couple paid off their debt and moved to Maine.
When the couple relocated to Maine in 2010, everything changed, Zahn said. Black checked out of the marriage emotionally and physically, and was short-tempered, she said.
Zahn testified that moving to Maine was Black's dream, whereas she felt isolated and was unhappy to have left Kansas during her daughter's last year of high school and move away from lifelong friends. Zahn, a fourth-grade award-winning teacher, said she would also have preferred to teach for another year, but Black persuaded her to retire. Black, also a teacher, had already retired.
In February 2011, Zahn found emails detailing an inappropriate correspondence between Black and another woman. Zahn said the communication was clearly more than friendly, and testified she knew Black was in love with the other woman from what she read in the emails.
Candice Flack Carter, of Arizona, said she and Black were high school sweethearts for one year until Black went to college. They did not have contact for 50 years until Carter contacted Black via Facebook out of curiosity, she told the court.
The conversations at first were casual and friendly, focusing on catching up for the last 50 years, she said. At some point, the conversations become more intimate, and they met each other in Arizona and started a physical relationship.
During the affair, and about three months before the alleged attack atop Maiden Cliff, Zahn fell and injured herself. She was hospitalized for more than a week to treat a perforated bladder, and Black told Carter at one point, Zahn's medical condition was "touch and go."
After reviewing an email sent to her by Black during his wife's hospitalization in January 2011, Carter told the court Black had said something to the effect of, if she [Zahn] dies, it will be the easy way out. Carter said the comment was made in a joking manner, and she said Black never discussed a plan to hurt or kill his wife.
Carter testified Black texted her to tell her he was going hiking on April 7. She said she responded by telling him to have a good time and to be safe. After not hearing from Black for a few days, she located and read a media report about the couple's fall from Maiden Cliff.
Black and Zahn went to counseling to repair the marriage after the affair, but Black did not stop communicating with the mistress, said Zahn.
Fernald also asked Zahn about her financial situation before and after an inheritance she received after her father's death in January 2010. A trust was established for Zahn and her brother, and only Zahn had permission to request money from her financial adviser. Black did not have access to the account, but requested via email $20,000 from the account and signed the email with Lisa's name, as well as his own. Zahn testified he did not have permission to request the money. Black also is accused of stealing gold coins from a safe deposit box he and Zahn shared. The coins were not to be sold, but were kept as an investment for use in hard times, Zahn said. Four tubes of coins were taken, and a letter Black wrote to Zahn's brother discussed the coins, although the contents of the letter were not read aloud in court.
Jackson, a Maine State Police detective, testified about four or five people collected evidence at the scene of Maiden Cliff. A rock climber was used to collect evidence in a crevice near the site. Jackson testified there was a trail of blood from a spot where the couple had eaten lunch to the spot where Black had forced Zahn over the cliff.
Two women who were driving home from work together, Bonnie Bowden and Denise Pearse, were the first to see Zahn after she climbed down the mountain. They stopped to help her after they noticed she was injured and covered in blood. Both women testified the first thing Zahn said to them was that her husband tried to kill her.
When Black was interviewed by Maine State Police detectives while in the hospital, he was questioned about what he remembered before he and Zahn fell off the mountain. In the recording, Black says he remembered the picnic lunch the couple had atop the mountain, and a hug the two shared. He told police he was thinking how he and Zahn had something special in the marriage, and although they were having problems, they could work things out. He said he did not remember attempting to harm his wife.
Former Chief Medical Examiner for the state of Maine, Margaret Greenwald, who recently retired, testified about the injuries Zahn sustained. Greenwald was asked to determine the possible cause of Zahn's injuries by state police.
She testified the wounds to Zahn's head, three gashes ranging in size from a half-inch to nearly 3 inches in length, two exposing her skull, were consistent with being hit by the same object multiple times, due to the clustering of the wounds. Zahn's other injuries were more spread out, and likely due to her scramble 700-feet down the mountain to reach aid, said Greenwald.
McKee asked Greenwald if it was possible Zahn's head injuries could be caused by her fall off the cliff, onto the outcropping, and then down a ravine. Greenwald said it was unusual for the injuries to be located where they were in such an instance, but agreed it was possible the wounds could be sustained by such a fall.
Michele Fleury, a forensic chemist at the Maine State Crime Lab, testified there were stains on Black's jacket that caught her eye when she was examining clothes Black and Zahn were wearing on the day in question. The two stains, on the left shoulder, appeared to be cast off blood, meaning it likely dripped from an object with blood on it, or the blood was thrown off an object and onto the jacket, she said.
When the blood from the jacket was tested by forensic DNA analyst Jennifer Sabean, the two stains on the shoulder were a mixture of matches, to both Black and Zahn. Blood on the rest of the jacket only belonged to Black, Sabean testified.
Samples analyzed from Black's hiking boots and blood found atop the mountain was also a match to Zahn.
A sentencing hearing date has not yet been set.
Courier Publications' reporter Juliette Laaka can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 118 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
594-4401 ext. 118
Juliette primarily covers the cops and courts beat for The Courier-Gazette.