Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Killing of Jeff Zack

Before the Bench

Michael Bowler made the opening statements for the defense before Summit County Common Pleas Judge Patricia Cosgrove. He claimed that Cynthia had ended the relationship with Zack and had no longer had a problem with him. "The plan was working, and she could feel good about it." Her infidelity had been due to her husband's busy schedule, which made her feel lonely.

Assistant District Attorney Michael Carroll used much the same strategy he had in the Zaffino trial: she had a problem and she needed to be rid of it. She found someone to help her do it. The break-up with Zack had been difficult, and he would not let go. She and Zaffino had made an attempt on Zack's life in May, which had been interrupted, and then completed it in June. Phone records confirmed it, as did withdrawal from the bank of the same amount of money Zaffino had used to purchase the motorcycle.

Bowler put the whole incident in the context of Cynthia's life. She was raised in a lower middle-class home but was unable to afford higher education. She met Ed George, much older than she was, and married him in 1984. But he was a workaholic, so she took up an affair with Zack for a decade. After they ended it, he had found a new mistress. She, in turn, got involved with Zaffino, and they called each other a lot. That did not prove she was aware of or part of a plot to commit murder.

Carroll believed that arguments over a child lay at the heart of Cynthia's motive for wanting Zack dead. Mary Ann Brewer, a former nanny in the George home, was aware of Zack's persistence and testified that Cynthia had felt trapped. They had often argued, especially over her daughter whom Zack had fathered, and whom he had threatened to take with him to Israel. Allegedly, George had claimed that she had been forced to continue seeing Zack in order to keep their daughter with her. There had also been a threat that Zack might expose their affair and publicly shame her. DNA had confirmed that the child had indeed been fathered by Zack, so he'd had leverage.

The prosecutor also entered two letters from Cynthia into evidence that had been sent to Zaffino in prison. She cried when she heard them read. The letters confirmed that she and Zaffino had been lovers and that she was still quite attached to him. She had sent him a Bible and listed for him some of the saints in the Catholic religion. She spoke about "true Christianity" and discussed how often she prayed for him. "Usually, I blow your candle out at 11:30 and take my cross to my bed and say my prayers." She seemed undisturbed in the letters that he'd just been convicted of killing her former lover. She also wrote one especially incriminating thing: she told Zaffino to follow the attorneys' instructions, because "we cannot make one mistake."

The following day, a damning bit of testimony was presented: the transcript of a phone call from Zaffino to a sister, demanding money from the George family to pay for a top-rate attorney like Johnnie Cochran. "You tell them they will pay for it," he was recorded as saying. "Just get the checkbook out and don't worry about it or they will lose their freedom. That was the deal: If anything happened, they would take care of it. I went through with my deal. Now it's their turn. They have no choice."

George's defense attorney insisted that Zaffino was referring to an agreement reached in 2002 that the two would share legal expenses. In the call, Zaffino never directly implicated Cynthia in the murder.

A counselor whom Cynthia was seeing before Zack died testified that she had said that her lover had grown difficult and she was trying to find a way to get out of the relationship. He had become obsessive and threatening, calling her every two hours, which scared her. She could not afford to let her husband know about either Zack or her new lover, she had confided, because a divorce would impoverish her. The counselor suggested she hire a body guard, but she had discontinued her sessions with him before providing specifics. He did not know the name of her lover.

Ed George also testified. Despite her infidelity and the public embarrassment she had caused him, he defended Cynthia against the conspiracy charge as best he could. He described the harassing phone calls and constant hang-ups at his house, and said he had not known until after the murder that Zack had fathered one of Cynthia's children or that she had had two extramarital lovers at once. He said he had taken a marriage vow, for better or worse, and he stood by her and would remain married.

To the surprise of many who attended the trial, Cynthia did not take the stand in her own defense. Zaffino, too, refused to testify, although he had told his sister that he'd been offered a deal if he would implicate Cynthia George.

At the end of seven days, the case went to the judge. By Monday, Cosgrove had found Cynthia guilty of complicity in aggravated murder. She received a sentence of 23 years to life, the same as Zaffino's. She was found innocent of the May 8 conspiracy to commit aggravated murder. Before she was led to jail, she insisted, "I didn't do it." Then she smiled broadly for her mug shot at the Reformatory for Women in Marysville. Many reporters commented on that.

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