Trial begins for man accused of pushing wife off cliff in Camden

Charles Reed Black, a retired schoolteacher from Kansas, listens to opening arguments Tuesday at Knox County Superior Court in his trial for the attempted murder of his wife, Lisa Black.
Abigail Curtis | BDN
Charles Reed Black, a retired schoolteacher from Kansas, listens to opening arguments Tuesday at Knox County Superior Court in his trial for the attempted murder of his wife, Lisa Black.
Posted July 15, 2014, at 5:34 p.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — Jurors on Tuesday afternoon heard two dramatic — and dramatically different — versions of the events of April 7, 2011, during opening arguments at Knox County Superior Court in the attempted murder trial of Charles Black.

Black, 71, is charged with attempted murder, two counts of elevated aggravated assault, two counts of aggravated assault and two counts of domestic violence assault. He is accused of trying to push his then-wife, Lisa Black, off Maiden Cliff in Camden on the afternoon of April 7, 2011. The couple since has divorced.

Charles Black has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

The case hinges on whether Black bashed his then-wife, Lisa Black, on the head several times with a large rock that afternoon before dragging her to the edge of Maiden Cliff in Camden and throwing the bloodied woman off.

That’s what Knox County District Attorney Geoff Rushlau told the mostly female jury, adding that the couple’s marriage was in trouble and that Lisa Black recently had come into a large inheritance and discovered that her husband was having an Internet affair with another woman.

Rushlau told the jurors that the Blacks, both career schoolteachers, had married in Kansas in 2004. She was 16 years his junior, a divorcee with two young daughters, and was swept away by the charismatic, vigorous Black in a romance that the district attorney described as a “whirlwind.”

But the couple soon developed bad financial habits, according to Rushlau.

“They were living beyond their means and got into debt,” Rushlau said.

That changed in 2010. Lisa Black’s father died, leaving her $1 million outright from his life insurance policies and the expectation of much more money from his assets.

The Blacks decided to move to Maine, to fulfill Charles’ lifelong dream of living in the state, and they purchased a home in Camden with $600,000 cash. They also paid off their debts and each bought a brand new car.

However, “by early 2011, the marriage was crumbling,” Rushlau told the jurors, after Lisa Black discovered her husband’s alleged Internet affair with a woman in Arizona. She confronted her husband, who supposedly admitted the affair and told her it would end, according to the district attorney.

“She discovered it hadn’t ended,” Rushlau said. “Lisa contemplated divorce. She even made an appointment with an attorney. But she was desperate to save the marriage.”

She went to counseling, both with and without her husband, and still was trying to keep their marriage intact on that April day when they decided to get some sandwiches and hike up the Maiden Cliff trail, Rushlau said.

“She was stunned, injured, bleeding, dazed,” Rushlau said. “She was begging for her life … she did what she could to escape. She couldn’t go up — he was up there. She went down. It wasn’t easy for her. Her husband, the defendant, had gone after her. He came tumbling and rolling by her as she went down the cliff.”

Rushlau said that although the cliff overlooks a sheer drop of hundreds of feet, Lisa Black survived because she landed on a rock ledge just a few feet from the top. At that point, she scrambled down through the woods as best she could with her head injuries, he said.

But in his opening remarks, defense attorney Walt McKee referenced the old radio show “The Rest of the Story” when he told jurors how the physical evidence shows that events simply couldn’t have taken place the way Lisa Black said they did.

“In trials, as well as real life, you need to know the rest of the story,” McKee said. “The state police went up there to find evidence. There was very little evidence at the top of Maiden Cliff that any of this took place at all.”

He showed jurors the clothes that Charles Black had worn that day — clothes that had very little blood on them. McKee said that if his client had bludgeoned his wife with the rock and then dragged her over the cliff, there would be significant amounts of blood. He also said that Charles Black did not think the inheritance would come to him in the event of his wife’s death.

“If anybody wanted to keep Lisa Black alive, it would be [Charles] Black,” McKee said. “The state has to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. You will have to find — and I will ask you to find — that [Charles] Black is not guilty.”

After opening arguments, the jury heard testimony from two women who were on their way home from a shift at the Camden Hannaford when they saw a bloody woman on the side of Route 52.

Bonnie Bowden of Belmont said that she stopped her Jeep after spotting the woman, who came to them for help. Passenger Denise Pearse of Lincolnville called 911 twice because first responders seemed slow to arrive.

“She was upset and scared, I’d say,” Bowden said. “She said that her husband had hit her over the head with a rock and pushed her over the side of the mountain. She said he’d tried to kill her.”

Throughout the opening arguments and the first witness testimonies in the trial, which is expected to last nearly two weeks, Charles Black looked composed and attentive as he sat next to his attorney.

Rushlau said Tuesday that he expects to call Lisa Black to the stand soon. Superior Court Justice Joyce Wheeler called for a recess after 3 p.m. Tuesday, telling the jurors she did not feel well. Before she sent them home she reiterated that they should not watch or read news reports of the case — or go to Maiden Cliff to do their own research.

The trial will resume at 9 a.m. Wednesday, she said.

 

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