Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Killing of Jeff Zack

The Second Trial

Cynthia's trial began in November 2005. "Hers is a soap opera tale," wrote Phil Trexler in the Akron Beacon Journal, "Her lover is killed, a second lover is convicted of the murder, and a love child is the supposed motive."

Her five-member defense team included Robert Meeker and Michael Bowler, and her trial was expected to last the better part of a month. Trial-watchers hoped she would try to impress the jury by testifying.

The evidence against her was largely the same set of records and circumstances that had convicted her former lover, John Zaffino. However, this time the gossip was expected to be juicier, with more details about Cynthia and her affairs. However, there was one more incriminating detail revealed: the George family had financed Zaffino's defense. In fact, Cynthia's attorneys had brokered the deal retaining Zaffino's counsel.

Assistant Prosecutor Michael Carroll rarely lost a high-profile case. While he admitted to reporters that the case was circumstantial, he believed the totality of the suspicious circumstances would be convincing even against a wealthy socialite. It had taken jurors less than four hours to convict Zaffino, and, while Cynthia was not the shooter, there was good reason to believe she was complicit, if not an instigator.

During jury selection, Cynthia brought a book to read, Prayers and Promises for Women, and she attended the day-long event without her husband. Reporters described her as being at ease, as if she had nothing about which to worry.

One new item was a confession Zaffino had allegedly made to another inmate. Cynthia's attorneys tried to block it, but the judge allowed it as potential evidence. In addition, officials had taped phone calls that Zaffino made to his sisters, which contained incriminating statements that suggested a conspiracy with Cynthia, and the judge allowed these as well.

But then Cynthia's attorneys surprised everyone by announcing that they would seek a bench trial, in which a judge would hear the case rather than a jury. This decision was precipitated by the judge's refusal to change the venue from Summit County, where the case had become sensational. The five-member defense team remained intact, though, and reporters speculated that a plea deal was in the works; but the attorneys denied it. They expected to prove Cynthia George's innocence, they insisted, but trial-watchers believed they had chosen a more difficult route to accomplish this goal. Nonetheless, there were advantages to a bench procedure.

"They're arguing a fine piece of the law," said one analyst, "and the judge won't tend to hate George as much as a jury, because she'll work with the facts, and not passion." In essence, the defense would be that there was no reason for Cynthia to want her former lover dead, so there was no motive for her to be involved in a conspiracy to kill him.

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