SCARBOROUGH — The Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Thursday heard oral arguments in the appeal of a man convicted of pushing his wife off a cliff in Camden.

Charles Reed Black was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2014 after a jury found him guilty of attempted murder.

The state’s highest court heard the arguments during a session at Scarborough High School. The court held sessions this month at three high schools across the state.

Defense attorney Steven Peterson said Black is appealing whether the state’s evidence was sufficient and whether the court was right to deny his request for a venue change. A judge rejected a request to move the trial because of the amount of attention it had received in the Camden area.

Prosecutors say there was no extensive media coverage that would prejudice a jury before the trial, which took place three years after Black was charged. Assistant District Attorney Christopher Fernald wrote in a court filing that there was more than sufficient evidence to return a guilty verdict.

A jury convicted Black of pushing his wife, Lisa Zahn, off 800-foot Maiden Cliff in Camden Hills State Park after hitting her in the head with a rock in 2011. Both Zahn and Black tumbled down the mountainside and were hospitalized for more than a week. Zahn said she believed he was pursuing her down the mountain, while Black told investigators he had no memory of hitting her or pushing her off the cliff.


Prosecutors said the couple had argued over an affair Black had with an Arizona woman and how he spent a $4 million inheritance from Zahn’s father. Black and Zahn divorced in 2013 after nine years of marriage.

During Thursday’s hearing, Peterson said the evidence presented by the state at trial was insufficient to support a conviction and highlights the lack of pools of blood at the top of the mountain. Zahn had gaping wounds on her head and her brain could be seen, but only a few drops of blood were found where investigators said Black hit his wife in the head three times with a rock.

“It doesn’t pass the straight face test that there wouldn’t be pools of blood,” Peterson said.

But the justices questioned whether the lack of blood disproved the evidence presented that Zahn was struck three times in the head.

“If all of the blood that was pouring out of her head was captured by her clothes, there wouldn’t be much blood on top (of the mountain),” said Justice Ellen Gorman.

Fernald, an assistant district attorney for the Knox County District Attorney’s Office, said the blood was absorbed by Zahn’s long hair and clothing, but also pointed out she was dragged and pushed over the cliff within moments of being struck by the rock.


Much of the appeal hearing focused on Peterson’s assertion that there was prejudice because of the extensive media coverage of the allegations against Black. Peterson said a lower court erred by denying a change of venue request. He said the scene of the alleged assault was a well-known spot and people in the community talked extensively about the case. He also argued that media coverage included information that was later deemed inadmissible at trial.

“This didn’t go away after a year,” he said.

Fernald argued that Black’s defense attorneys did not renew the request for a change of venue and did not object to the jury that was seated. He said jurors were questioned about what they knew about the case and few, if any, had heard much about it. Camden residents were specifically asked if they had heard about the case and most said it was not “the talk of the town,” Fernald said.

Gorman said the issue of venue was more important years ago when local newspapers covered communities extensively. Now, two competing newspapers cover the entire state, she said.

“What difference does venue make now?” she asked.

The court did not rule on the appeal Thursday. While in Scarborough, the justices also heard appeals filed in two other cases and had lunch with students.

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @grahamgillian

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