Trial on hold for man accused of pushing wife off Maiden Cliff pending Supreme Court hearing

Posted Sept. 22, 2013, at 11:42 a.m.
Charles R. Black
Knox County Jail
Charles R. Black

ROCKLAND, Maine — Nearly 30 months after law enforcement officials allege that Charles Black tried to kill his wife by pushing her off Maiden Cliff in Camden, the case awaits a hearing and ruling by the state’s highest court.

The 70-year-old Black has been free on $240,000 surety bail since shortly after his arrest by police in April 2011 on a charge of aggravated assault. In July 2011, a Knox County grand jury indicted him for attempted murder, two counts of elevated aggravated assault, three counts of aggravated assault, and two counts of domestic violence assault.

He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Police and the prosecution claim that Black and his then-wife, Lisa Black, were hiking in Camden Hills State Park on April 7, 2011, when he struck his wife one or more times in the head with a rock, dragged her body to the edge of Maiden Cliff and pushed her over. Charles Black initially told police he had passed out and fallen forward, striking the back of his wife’s head with his head, according to the police report.

Lisa Black fell a short distance, but then got up and managed to make it down to the bottom of the mountain, where she was spotted by a passing motorist. She was taken to the hospital.

Charles Black was found injured after a subsequent search and was arrested a few days later after being released from Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor.

And the 540-pages of medical records created at EMMC are central to the appeal filed by defense attorney Walter McKee on behalf of Charles Black.

The prosecution obtained Black’s records from Eastern Maine Medical Center in February 2012 after getting a search warrant. McKee told the court last year that his client has no memory of what happened on top of Mount Megunticook on April 7, 2011.

After McKee first raised objections about the state’s acquiring Black’s medical records, the prosecution placed those documents in a separate, sealed file. Justice Jeffrey Hjelm later ruled that the prosecution could use the records but ordered that they not look at them pending an appeal by McKee.

McKee notified the Maine Supreme Judicial Court in November 2012 that he was appealing Hjelm’s ruling on the use of the records.

Both sides have filed paperwork with the state high court, and oral arguments before the justices are scheduled to be held in November. The criminal trial is on hold pending that ruling.

McKee is arguing that there are rules which require that a notice be filed with court if the prosecution wants to obtain the medical records. This would have allowed the defense to object at a court hearing.

“This isn’t just about the Black case. Every citizen has to be concerned when the state gets a secret warrant for highly confidential records. It was Mr. Black in this case; the next time it could be any one of us and we’d never know it,” McKee said Sunday in an email response.

District Attorney Geoffrey Rushlau is arguing that the use of a search warrant in this case was appropriate.

There is no time frame for when the Supreme Judicial Court will issue a ruling after the November arguments are made. The court tends to make its rulings quicker when a trial is pending.

McKee said if the court rules in his client’s favor and the district attorney then notifies the court that it wants to use the records, he will oppose the request at a full hearing.

“I am confident a court would not allow these records to be released,” McKee said.

Police records from the time of Black’s arrest indicated that his wife recently had inherited $4 million and had told police that her husband was taking money without her permission. She also told officers that her husband had been having an online affair with a former girlfriend.

In November, Rushlau filed a motion in court to compel the appearance of a 66-year-old Chicago woman at the not-yet-scheduled criminal trial for Charles Black. The woman is believed to have been involved in an extramarital relationship with Charles Black and the prosecution alleges that they corresponded with each other several times through text messages and other electronic means.

“Evidence of the relationship is material as showing a motive for Charles Black’s crimes against his wife,” the prosecutor stated in court papers last year.

According to statements made by Lisa Black to police, which were included in a police affidavit filed in court in April 2011, the couple had been having marital problems for a while. The April 7 incident on Mount Megunticook was the latest in a series, according to the woman.

Lisa Black felt “he has been trying to kill her,” stated the police report. “A couple of weeks ago Charles had climbed a ladder to the attic. Lisa was standing at the bottom of the ladder when Charles fell down on top of her. Charles told her that he passed out.”

Lisa Black filed for divorce after the incident and charges filed against her husband and it was granted by the court in September 2012. They had been married on May 28, 2004, in Mission Hills, Kan.

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