October 8, 2013

Maine man accused of pushing wife off cliff fights evidence

A lawyer for Charles Black says a search warrant for medical records lacked probable cause.

By JESSE SCARDINA Morning Sentinel

NEWPORT — The attorney for a Camden man accused of pushing his wife off a cliff argued Tuesday that police improperly obtained medical records in the case, jeopardizing his client’s chance at a fair trial.

Police charged Charles Black, 70, in April 2011 with trying to kill Lisa Black, now his ex-wife, by hitting her in the head with a rock before pushing her over the edge of Maiden Cliff in Camden Hills State Park. Searchers found Charles Black injured shortly after the incident, and he was arrested a few days later after his release from the hospital.

Lisa Black fell a short distance before making her way down to the base of Mount Megunticook, where a motorist took her to the hospital. Later, in discussing possible motives for the attack with police, Lisa Black said her husband was having an online affair with a former girlfriend, and that she had recently inherited $4 million after her father’s death.

At a Maine Supreme Judicial Court hearing Tuesday at Nokomis Regional High School, Black’s lawyer, Walter McKee, said prosecutors lacked sufficient probable cause when they obtained a search warrant for confidential medical records in February 2012. The request for more than 500 pages of records also was too broad, McKee said.

“The state shouldn’t get to use these records. They are privileged,” he said. “The state should have known to limit the request.”

The high court will rule on the matter later.

Another issue discussed Tuesday was why prosecutors requested a search warrant rather than a subpoena. With a subpoena, if a party seeks confidential or privileged documents, the party needs to file a motion with the court before serving the subpoena so that both sides are aware of the document request.

McKee was upset that a search warrant was approved nearly a year after the criminal prosecution began, without any notice to Charles Black.

“Regardless of procedure and probable cause, the use of a search warrant in circumstances like these was fundamentally unfair to Black,” the defendant’s brief states.

District Attorney Geoffrey Rushlau argued that the request for the search warrant was appropriate because of Black’s injury subsequent to the alleged attack. Rushlau also made it clear that the medical documents had been sealed and hadn’t been reviewed in preparation for a trial.

“The trial is not tainted by the search warrant,” Rushlau said.”

The prosecution said the medical records were vital in determining Black’s mental state after the incident, when he said he had no memory of what took place on the mountain.

After the prosecution obtained the medical records in February 2012, McKee objected. The prosecution put the documents in a sealed file before Justice Jeffrey Hjelm later ruled that the prosecution could use the records, but could not look at them pending McKee’s appeal on their admissibility.

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

Lisa Black filed for divorce after the incident, and filed charges against Charles Black in September 2012.

Jesse Scardina can be contacted at 861-9239 or at:

jscardina@centralmaine.com

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