June 21, 2018
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‘I thought I had eight to 10 seconds left on this Earth,’ victim testifies in Maiden Cliff trial

Abigail Curtis | BDN
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.
By Stephen Betts, BDN Staff

ROCKLAND, Maine — Lisa Zahn testified Wednesday that after her then-husband Charles Black struck her on the head and pulled her to the edge of Maiden Cliff in Camden on April 7, 2011, she thought her life would end as part of a murder-suicide.

On Wednesday, Zahn, formerly Lisa Black, recounted the events of that afternoon during the second day of testimony at her ex-husband’s trial in Knox County Superior Court for attempted murder and other charges.

Black had suggested having a picnic on the top of Maiden Cliff and it went well at first, she said. Zahn said Black collected two rocks — one about a foot wide and the other about the size of a baseball — and placed them next to him.

As she was standing to look at the view of Megunticook Lake, she felt something strike her hard three times in the back of the head, Zahn testified. Blood then flowed down her face, she recalled, as she fell to the ground.

The woman said Black, 71, then grabbed her left wrist and dragged her to the edge of the cliff. She said she tried to bite his wrist but was unsuccessful. He then threw her over the cliff, Zahn testified.

“I thought I had eight to 10 seconds left on this Earth and had not said goodbye to anyone,” Zahn said.

Zahn said she landed on a ledge and at first considered playing dead but decided that Black likely would come down to check on her so she decided to try to get down the mountain.

She heard rustling that she believed was Black coming after her. She then climbed to a sheer part of the cliff, holding onto a tree root, before deciding the only way to escape was to let go.

After landing about 35 feet below, she continued her descent and then saw her husband, about 90 feet away, plummeting off the cliff. She eventually found where he was and asked for his cellphone to call for help but he said he did not know where it was.

He then asked her to help him and repeatedly begged her not to leave him.

She went down the mountain and managed to flag down the third car that passed, she said.

Zahn suffered a broken sternum, broken ribs, injuries to her head, a punctured lung, and serious cuts and bruises to her leg. She was treated initially at Pen Bay Medical Center and then for eight days at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor.

Zahn said that she had inherited about $4 million after her father’s death and that her then-husband knew about the inheritance. The couple moved to Camden in 2010 after her father died and they purchased, with cash, a $545,000 home as well as a mini Cooper car for him and a Volkswagen Beetle for her.

In Wednesday’s morning court session, Assistant District Attorney Christopher Fernald’s questioning of Zahn focused mainly on how she met Black, their relationship and then how she found out about an online affair he allegedly was having.

Black is charged with attempted murder, two counts of elevated aggravated assault, two counts of aggravated assault and two counts of domestic violence assault.

The couple since has divorced. Black has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Zahn said she met Black as part of a bicycle group both belonged to while they were teachers in Kansas. She testified that their first date was in 2004 and nine days later he asked her to marry him. They were engaged for four months before getting married.

Black was charismatic, Zahn said, and had a passion for adventure.

That changed after they moved to Camden, she testified. The idea to move to Camden was his, Zahn said, as was his desire for her to retire from teaching. She said she sold her home and the home of her recently deceased father before buying the house in Camden.

“He checked out on me emotionally and physically,” Zahn said about Black after they moved to Camden. She said he also became short-tempered.

About two months before the incident on top of Maiden Cliff, Zahn said she had a feeling and checked the emails on his computer. She found an email that indicated an online affair. She said she was totally devastated.

The couple then sought help from marriage counselors and she thought that he had ended the relationship but she then found more emails, text messages and phone calls to the woman.

She also found that he was signing her name in requests to their financial manager to withdraw money from the trust account without her permission.

Defense attorney Walter McKee is scheduled to begin his cross examination of Zahn on Thursday morning.

Earlier, Justice Joyce Wheeler rejected a request by the district attorney’s office to allow the testimony of a Missouri woman who claimed she overheard a conversation between Charles Black and another woman. In that purported conversation, Black allegedly said that if the right amount of valium had been injected into a bottle of wine, then he would not be in the situation he was now.

The ruling was made before the start of the trial.

The first witness on Wednesday was Dean Jackson, a former state police detective, who detailed what investigators found on top of Maiden Cliff and all the way down to a parking lot where Black’s car was parked on April 7, 2011.

He described 94 photographs that showed bloodstains on the top of the cliff and on a ledge near the top. There were also photographs of Black’s backpack, glasses and cell phone scattered well below the top of the cliff.

McKee questioned Jackson about the amount of blood and asked why he didn’t take photos of each blood spot. The investigator said he took overviews of where the blood was and then took photos of representative blood spots.

The trial was expected originally to last two weeks but now is expected to wrap up either Friday or early next week.


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