Man accused of trying to kill wife on Camden cliff loses appeal, but high court frowns on using medical records to prosecute him

Posted April 08, 2014, at 1:15 p.m.
Last modified April 08, 2014, at 5:55 p.m.
Charles Black
Knox County Jail
Charles Black

PORTLAND, Maine — In a ruling issued Tuesday, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court expressed doubt that the prosecution can use the medical records of a 70-year-old man accused of trying to murder his wife by pushing her off Maiden Cliff in Camden three years ago.

The state high court, however, denied the appeal filed by Charles Black over the way that the district attorney’s office obtained his medical records, saying the appeal was interlocutory, meaning that it was filed before the issue needed to be raised.

“If Black is convicted after a trial in which his medical records are used against him — an unlikely scenario, given the strictures of (rules of evidence) — Black will have an opportunity to challenge the court’s determination on the lawfulness of the warrant in an appeal brought from a final judgment,” the court ruled.

The district attorney’s office obtained Black’s medical records from Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor by getting a search warrant rather than filing a motion in court in which Black could challenge the request.

The prosecution obtained Black’s records from EMMC after he was taken there following the April 2011 incident at Maiden Cliff.

District Attorney Geoffrey Rushlau said that he has not reviewed the records but if he finds anything that he believes should be used at trial, a hearing would be held before Superior Court Justice Jeffrey Hjelm in Knox County to determine its admissibility.

“So we may have lost the battle on whether the records should have ever been secretly seized but we win the war on whether they will be used at trial,” Black’s attorney, Walter McKee of Augusta, said Tuesday.

After McKee first raised objections about the state’s acquiring Black’s medical records, the prosecution placed those documents in a separate, sealed file.

In October 2012, Hjelm ruled the prosecution could review the records. At the same time, Hjelm ordered that the prosecution not look at the medical records to give McKee time to appeal.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court heard arguments in October 2013 and issued its ruling six months later.

Black has pleaded not guilty to a July 2011 grand jury indictment of attempted murder, two counts of elevated aggravated assault, two counts of aggravated assault and two counts of domestic violence assault.

According to the prosecution, Black and his then-wife, Lisa Black, were hiking in Camden Hills State Park in April 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. Black 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 a hospital.

Charles Black was found injured after a subsequent search and was arrested a few days later after being released from EMMC.

Police records from the time of Black’s arrest indicate 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.

The high court ruling means the case can go to trial in July in Knox County Superior Court.

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