State says victim begged for life before she was pushed off cliff

By Juliette Laaka | Jul 16, 2014
Photo by: Juliette Laaka Charles Black walks into the Knox County Superior Courtroom on the first day of his trial July 15. In the background, from left, is District Attorney Geoffrey Rushlau and Black's defense attorney Walt McKee.

Rockland — The victim begged for her life as she was dragged to the lip of Maiden Cliff after being struck three times in the head with a rock by her now ex-husband in an attempt to kill her, the state said July 15 in opening arguments.

Lisa Zahn, 55, of Camden was afraid she was going to die after being thrown from the cliff face, first responders testified in the trial of Charles Reed Black, the 71-year-old man accused of attempting to kill his former wife in April 2011.

The trial, being held in Knox County Superior Court, is expected to last two weeks.

Zahn told medical professionals thinking of her two daughters forced her to reach the bottom of the mountain, seek help, and escape her husband.

Five witnesses for the state said Zahn repeatedly told them Black tried to kill her. Medical professionals said she was fearful and distraught, with blood flowing from her head and coagulating in her hair.

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.

District Attorney Geoffrey Rushlau said Zahn is alive today because she landed on a ledge after Black threw her from Maiden Cliff. Rushlau said Zahn feared Black would pursue her when he discovered she had not been killed, and she began to descend down the mountain although she was injured. Black did attempt to locate her, but severely injured himself in the pursuit, tumbling past his wife.

Both were hospitalized at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor.

Defense attorney Walt McKee said the physical evidence does not corroborate Zahn's claims Black struck her in the head and dragged her to the cliff face before throwing her over the edge. He said if this story was true, there would be more blood on the clothing Black was wearing, as the injuries Zahn sustained to her head were deep lacerations. He contended her injuries and the amount of blood on the top of the cliff were consistent with a fall from the mountain, not from her former husband smashing her with a rock.

Rushlau said blood found at the scene proves Zahn was injured and bleeding before she was thrown from the mountain.

McKee said Zahn was able to walk down the mountain,  whereas his client was brought down on a backboard, and more severely injured than Zahn.

"He was nearly dead," McKee said, which is not consistent with the allegation Black was the perpetrator.

Paramedic Debra Tooley testified Black was verbally unresponsive, except for moaning.

McKee said although his client was having an online affair, the infidelity was not a motive for his client to kill his wife, but rather, a betrayal that could have angered Zahn and, coupled with the fact she did not want to live in Maine, spurred her to anger.

"Who had more of a motive?" McKee asked jurors.

In an affidavit filed in court by police, Zahn said there were several other incidents involving her husband that made her feel as if he had been trying to kill her. According to the affidavit, a couple of weeks prior to the Maiden Cliff incident, Black climbed a ladder to the attic and, while she was at the bottom of the ladder, he fell down on top of her. Black told his wife he passed out, according to the court documents.

She also told a detective she inherited $4 million when her father died, and Black had been taking her money without her permission, according to the affidavit. She also told the detective her husband contacted an old girlfriend in Arizona and the two had been having an online affair. Police were also told the two had been having marital problems and had been to counseling.

McKee said his client knew if his former wife died, the money would not go to him, but to her two daughters, so the state's claim that Black tried to kill her for money is false.

Black will not be allowed to stay in Camden during the trial. A motion to amend his bail to allow him to stay in Camden with a friend was denied June 24 by Justice Jeffrey Hjelm in Knox County Superior Court.

Black was initially charged with aggravated assault, but in July 2011, he was indicted by the grand jury for six criminal offenses, including attempted murder, arising from the alleged incident. The initial aggravated assault charge against her husband came after she filed for a protection from abuse order against Black in which she claimed he tried to kill her.

Justice Joyce Wheeler is presiding over the case. A jury of 13 women and two men have been selected to decide the case.

Courier Publications reporter Juliette Laaka can be reached at 594-4401 or by email at jlaaka@villagesoup.com.

Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.

Staff Profile

Juliette Laaka
Reporter
594-4401 ext. 118
Email Me

Juliette primarily covers the cops and courts beat for The Courier-Gazette.

Recent Stories by Juliette Laaka