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Cynthia GEORGE





Classification: Justice miscarriage
Characteristics: Love triangle
Number of victims: 0
Date of murder: June 16, 2001
Date of arrest: January 10, 2005
Date of birth: 1954
Victim profile: Jeff Zack, 44 (her former lover)
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Akron, Summit County, Ohio, USA
Status: Sentenced to life in prison without a chance of parole for 23 years on November 28, 2005. Conviction overturned on appeal. Released on March 22, 2007
photo gallery

Supreme Court ruling ends Cindy George case

Thursday, August 30, 2007

In the five months since she was released from prison, Cindy George has left her palatial home to go to Mass, meet a few times with girlfriends and attend her daughter's high school graduation, her lawyer said.

She will remain in self-imposed seclusion despite the Ohio Supreme Court's decision Wednesday not to review the reversal of her conviction for plotting with one lover to kill another, the lawyer said.

That ruling closes the case.

"She was very happy but wants to be able to have life calm down for the kids and the rest of the family," said her attorney Bradley Barbin. "You need a low profile for that."

George, 53, who faced national media scrutiny during her murder trial and release, will not sue the Summit County prosecutor's office for wrongful prosecution, Barbin said.

"There is not a mean bone in her body," he said. "People really never got the untold story of Cindy George."

In a written statement, George said, "With this decision and the closure it provides, it is time that we as a family move forward with our lives."

Prosecutors, who maintain George plotted with lover John Zaffino to kill her former lover Jeff Zack, are disappointed George is free.

"The justice system was created with appellate rights and this office respects the legal system and therefore, accepts the decision of the Supreme Court," Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh said in a statement.

Zack, 44, of Stow, was fatally shot in the face on June 16, 2001, as he sat in his sport utility vehicle at a gas pump. Witnesses saw a motorcycle and driver with his face obscured by a dark helmet leaving the scene.

Zaffino, 40, was arrested about a year later. He was convicted of murder in 2003 and sentenced to life in prison. All appeals have failed.

George was arrested in January 2005.

She did not testify in her trial before Summit County Common Pleas Judge Patricia Cosgrove. Cosgrove ruled that George was guilty of complicity to commit aggravated murder and sentenced her to life in prison without a chance of parole for 23 years.

George served 16 months before she was released March 22 after the 9th Ohio District Court of Appeals ruled that the circumstantial evidence presented by prosecutors, including telephone records, letters and financial documents, was not sufficient to prove her guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

George's husband, Ed, and their seven children have provided unwavering support, Barbin said.

She has remained sequestered in her Medina County home by choice, preferring to spend time with her children, he said. She has undergone counseling.

"She has a very strong faith and believes in her family," Barbin said. "And she wants to thank all the people who were willing to support her despite those who rushed to judgment and found it so easy to kick someone when they are down."


Cynthia George-John Zaffino-Jeff Zack Timeline

June 16, 2001

Jeff Zack, a 44-year-old Stow businessman and former paratrooper in the Israeli army, is shot execution-style at a gas pump in the parking lot of BJ's Wholesale Club on Home Avenue. Witnesses say the black-clad shooter was on a Ninja-style motorcycle with lime-green trim.

June 16, 2002

A year has passed and police have made no arrests. They know Zack had enemies; he fought with his neighbors; he was an unfaithful husband and had been involved in some questionable business dealings.

Sept. 25, 2002

John F. Zaffino, 36, of Chippewa Township, is charged with aggravated murder. Police say Zaffino was the black-clad motorcyclist.

Feb. 26, 2003

The Zaffino trial opens. Assistant Summit County Prosecutor Michael Carroll tells jurors that Jeff Zack's love affair with the wife of a prominent Akron restaurant owner ultimately led to the murder. He says Cynthia George, wife of Tangier owner Ed George, had a long affair with Zack that ended in May 2001, nine months after she found another paramour in Zaffino. Carroll alleges Zack's dissatisfaction with the breakup led him to harass Ed and Cynthia George and feud with Zaffino. The dissatisfaction, he said, also led to Zaffino's plan to kill the Stow man.

March 7, 2003

Cynthia George is called to testify. She invokes her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

March 11, 2003

Trial ends with Zaffino's attorney arguing that the evidence against his client is circumstantial. Zaffino maintains his innocence. Jurors take less than four hours to convict Zaffino.

March 17, 2003

Zaffino is sentenced to life in prison. Neither police nor prosecutors will comment on when, why or whether Cynthia George will be charged. Akron police Lt. David Whiddon does say that George remains a suspect in Zack's murder and that the department's investigation is ongoing.

Dec. 31, 2003

9th District Court of Appeals upholds the Zaffino conviction.

Nov. 17, 2004

A&E's American Justice series airs an hour-long show about the Zack murder titled ''Who Whacked Zack?'' The show focuses on Cynthia George and questions whether more arrests will be made. Prosecutors cite a lack of evidence.

Jan. 10, 2005

Cynthia George is arrested and charged with complicity and conspiracy to commit aggravated murder.

Nov. 10, 2005

George's five-attorney defense team says after talking with potential jurors for three days that George cannot get a fair trial in Summit County because of pretrial publicity. The lawyers opt instead to try their case before Judge Patricia A. Cosgrove.

Nov. 14, 2005

The trial opens with defense attorneys saying George had no motive to kill Zack after breaking up with him a month before the murder.

Nov. 23, 2005

Testimony ends with Ed George announcing his support for his wife and attorneys giving final arguments. Cosgrove announces she will deliberate over the four-day Thanksgiving holiday and deliver her verdict at 11 a.m. Nov. 28.

Nov. 28, 2005

Cosgrove acquits George of conspiracy to commit aggravated murder for an aborted hit on Zack's life at a local park, but finds George guilty of complicity to aggravated murder. She sentences George to life in prison without parole for at least 23 years. George's attorneys promise an appeal.

Nov. 30, 2005

Cynthia George is transported to the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville.

Dec. 15, 2005

Trial lawyers file appeal with the Ninth District Court of Appeals.

March 23-24, 2006

George's trial lawyers Michael Bowler and Robert Meeker are replaced by Columbus attorneys Bradley Davis Barbin, Max Kravitz and Jacob Cairns.

Jan. 3, 2007

Cynthia George's new lawyers argue for a another trial, saying that her trial lawyers had conflicts that warranted removal from the case.

March 21, 2007

Ninth District Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 ruling, says that there was insufficient evidence to convict George, effectively allowing her to go free.

Aug. 29, 2007

The Ohio Supreme Court declines to accept an appeal from Summit County prosecutors. Barring the high court's reversal of its own decision, George will remain free and can never be tried again. A wrongful death lawsuit against the Georges and Zaffino by Zack's family is scheduled for trial in November.


The Killing of Jeff Zack

BY Katherine Ramsland -

Lover's Triangle

Jeff Zack typed the name "Cynthia George" into a search engine. After a ten-year extramarital love affair, she had broken up with him. They'd had their troubles of late, but he had not expected to lose her. Now he was trying everything of which he could think to reconnect. If he realized that she was involved with another man, he either did not know or did not care how dangerous that person might be. He was persistent.

It was the morning before Father's Day, and as he performed his obsessive search, Zack's wife and son were in another room nearby, unaware of what he was doing. Without any explanation to them, he left home. He didn't even take time to put on his shoes. But he usually went out on Saturday mornings to purchase supplies from BJ's Wholesale Club to fill his various vending machines. It was his routine, so they thought nothing of it.

He drove his Ford SUV to Home Avenue in Akron, Ohio, and stopped at a gas pump to refuel. He did not know that someone waiting for him was now watching him.

The other man involved with Cynthia George knew Zack's regular visit to the store and was in the parking lot, seated on a motorcycle. Anyone who noticed him would have seen that he was dressed all in black and had even shielded his face with a dark visor. He looked like some sort of Ghost Rider, strangely out of place on a summer day. But he was all too real. He touched a holstered revolver, recently purchased, to reassure himself it was ready.

When he spotted Jeff Zack's car at the gas pump, he rode over and pulled up behind him. Getting off the bike as if preparing to fill it, the dark biker walked calmly instead to the passenger-side window of Zack's SUV, lifted the gun, and fired a single shot. It shattered the glass and hit Zack square in the head. He slumped over onto the steering wheel in a spray of blood that covered the inside of the windshield and driver's window.

Carolyn Hyson, the pump attendant, stood only a few feet away, too surprised to move. The biker appeared to look right at her, although she could not see his face through the visor, before remounting to roar away. Afterward, she was amazed that he hadn't shot her as well. Clearly, this was a calculated hit.

Once she was able to act, Hyson shakily called 911 to get the police and an ambulance there. She was able to describe to responding officers the Ninja-style gray-and-black motorcycle with lime-green stripes, and the heavy-set man with a gun who had ridden it. However, for Zack, it was too late. At the age of 44, he was dead, killed by a single copper-jacketed hollow-point bullet.

The biker made a call before he rode over the state line to Pennsylvania, where he intended to establish an alibi and get rid of the bike. Having purchased it recently, he apparently had only one use for it.

It took detectives only a day to connect Jeff Zack with Cynthia George, who was married to the wealthy owner of the Tangiers Restaurant. They even knew that one of her seven children had probably been fathered by him. However, she already had a lawyer and he blocked their inquiries. They also learned about Cynthia George's new paramour, John Zaffino, but he had an alibi: he was at a car show that day in Pennsylvania.

Nothing about this case was going to come easy. In fact, over a year would pass before police had a solid piece of evidence. In the meantime, they learned what they could about the victim. This case was heavily covered in the Akron Beacon Journal and Cleveland Plain Dealer, as well as by the A&E series, American Justice because the woman with whom Zack had been involved was the wife of a prominent businessman, well-known in the community. The case proved to be a sordid Midwestern version of the lifestyles of the rich and famous. In fact, the intrigue would grow more complicated the more was learned about the adulterous web of Cynthia George.

Unfaithful Husband

Investigators learned that Jeff Zack had a few enemies, according to reporters. He was a difficult man with a sharp temper, who often fought with neighbors over trifling things. He'd also had a few business dealings that could have inspired someone to shoot him, and he'd hit on several married women and had been unfaithful to his wife. In short, there were several suspects for this crime, but little evidence linking any of them to the shooting.

Abandoned as a child by his biological father, Zack had taken the name of his stepfather. He was educated, multi-lingual, and successful as a stock broker. Tall and handsome, he had a reputation as a womanizer, as well as for defying the law. In 1981, he'd been convicted in connection with an illegal escort agency in Arizona, and in 1996, he had grabbed an adolescent girl in a hardware store and kissed her. At the time, he'd been married for ten years to his wife, Bonnie Cook. When his firm in Arizona had been caught mishandling money in 1991, he had moved to Akron to start over. It wasn't long before he spotted Cynthia George at the Tangier bar. He was instantly obsessed.

In her late thirties at this time, Cynthia was a small-town girl and aspiring beauty queen. Blonde and slender, she was also quite flirtatious and married to Ed George, fifteen years her senior. Nevertheless, she still caught the eye of other men. By some accounts, she freely hit on them.

In front of Bonnie, Zack acted openly enthralled, and she could see trouble ahead. It wasn't long before he was embroiled with Cynthia in an adulterous affair. Even so, the Zacks and Georges became friends. Zack often came over to the George home on weekends to take Cynthia on bike rides or for walks. He also called her so frequently on the phone it was difficult to believe he didn't realize how obvious he was being. Perhaps he did not care.

Yet Bonnie would later say she did not actually know they were having an affair until years later, in 1998, when she overheard one of Zack's conversations. She confronted him, and he apologized and promised to change. He said he would stop the affair but not his friendship with Cynthia. Nonetheless, he remained obsessed, and it showed. Cynthia, too, made frequent calls to him. Apparently, despite her palatial home and wealthy lifestyle, she was bored. The nanny, Mary Ann Brewer, said that Cynthia was away from home much of the time, while Ed was the one who took an active role with the children. She described Cynthia as self-absorbed. The idle rich can prove easily bored, and even illicit affairs can grow stale.

The New Man in Her Life

Journalist Phil Trexler reported in the Beacon Journal that Cynthia had met unemployed trucker John F. Zaffino in 2000, and was soon involved with him. Zaffino, 36, was known to have an aggressive temper, especially when he drank. His first wife had left him after six years, despite the son they shared. His second marriage, to Christine Todaro, lasted only a few months, although he apparently would later keep in touch with her.

Cynthia became involved with Zaffino after he started taking her out for walks, but she also kept up her affair with Zack. It was nine months before she apparently decided in May 2001 that she no longer wished to continue the relationship with Zack. She asked him to leave her alone. He was not one to be so lightly cast aside. He continued to call her. As she would tell it, she tried to end the relationship many times over at least three years, but he always threatened her.

Ed George became perturbed by the constant phone calls to his home. He called a friend on the police force to report them and to ask what to do. He suspected Zack, but the caller frequently hung up. He did not want a public investigation, so there was no follow-up. Still, he suspected that his wife was at the heart of this trouble.

Cynthia apparently kept both Zack and Zaffino on the line, literally at the same time, according to phone records. While Zaffino spoke with her by cell phone, she would sometimes use a second line to talk to Zack. No one else would learn what they were all saying, but the tension was building.

However, Zack soon met yet another woman during a plane trip and spent a week with her out of town. He seemed to have moved one. By the next month, though, Zack was dead.

The Tip

A reward was offered about information, and a tipster sent police to a woman who once had been married to John Zaffino. She admitted that she'd been privy to an odd conversation. In 2001, Zaffino had told her he'd just beaten up a "white-haired Israeli." Then she read about the murder of Jeff Zack, who was described as a former Israeli paratrooper with silver-gray hair, and wondered if there was some connection. She called Zaffino in the middle of the night and, as she put it, he said, "Well, let's just say the guy's going to have a hard time parting his hair from now on."

Investigators then learned that Zaffino had recently made a motorcycle purchase, although he had introduced himself to the dealer as John Smith. He had mentioned that he did not plan to keep the bike for long. To show the police the kind of bike that "John Smith" had purchased on May 24, the dealer went to the Internet and did a search. He came up with an identical bike for sale in McMurray, Penn.

It wasn't long before investigators put two and two together and realized it was the same bike. The purchaser had bought it in May and then taken it across the state line to sell it to another dealer. That led them to Zaffino's first wife, whose fiance owned the dealership. They had taken it in exchange for child support that he owed. The ex-wife described how her former husband had come during the night, eager to be rid of the bike, and had even placed tape over the green stripes.

The "coincidences" were coming hard and fast. While this discovery wasn't solid evidence, it was strongly suggestive, and Zaffino became the primary suspect.

Christine Todaro agreed to wear a recording device and tape calls made to him, beginning in June 2002. This lasted three months, over which time Zaffino grew increasingly more paranoid. He even suspected her of wearing a wire and warned her not to talk with the police. He never admitted to anything directly.

Soon the police found phone records that destroyed Zaffino's alibi. A friend had said that Zaffino was at a car show about 40 minutes away when Zack was shot. However, the records showed that he was calling the friend on his cell phone at that time, rather than being at the show. He actually had arrived at the show some two hours after the shooting. There was reason to believe that the witness corroborating the alibi had been intimidated into making a false statement.

At the end of September, Zaffino was arrested and charged with aggravated murder. The police were confident that he was the black-clad man on the motorcycle, and a search of his home produced cell phone bills with many calls to Cynthia George. Then bank records were obtained which indicated that she had withdrawn $5,300 just before Zaffino had purchased the gray-and-black Honda CBR 1000 motorcycle and some helmets for that amount. There were also calls between them on June 16, before and after Zack had been shot, and a few days later, when Zaffino had taken the motorcycle to Pennsylvania.

Investigators later surmised that there had been a plan in place as early as May to lure Zack to a remote area, because a police officer had come across Zaffino at Cuyahoga Valley National Park, with an empty holster in his car. A few days later, someone found a .32-caliber pistol in the nearby park. Zaffino had purchased a .32-calibre not long before that, which he couldn't produce. Later in the month, after this incident, he had also purchased a .357 Magnum, which took hollow-point bullets similar to the one that had killed Zack. The circumstantial evidence was strong enough for a case.

The Dark Rider's Trial

Zaffino went to trial on February 26, 2003. Assistant Summit County Prosecutor Michael Carroll offered evidence for his theory that Zaffino had snuffed out Jeff Zack because of Zack's inability to let go of Cynthia George after she ended their affair. He argued that Zack had made harassing phone calls to the George residence and had become involved in a feud with Zaffino over Cynthia. Since Zack had not gone away quietly on his own, Zaffino then plotted to get rid of him permanently. He'd made an aborted attempt in May and completed the act in June.

On March 7, Cynthia George was brought in to testify, but instead of clarifying her role, she invoked the Fifth Amendment, citing her constitutional right to not incriminate herself. Her husband did likewise.

The prosecution's best witness was Christine Todaro. She testified about Zaffino's response to her question about the man he'd assaulted. The tapes of her subsequent conversations with him while wearing a wire were played for the jury.

Zaffino's attorney, Lawrence Whitney, claimed that the evidence proved nothing. It was circumstantial at best. Truthfully, there was no smoking gun and no eyewitness who could identify the shooter. Zaffino did not testify on his own behalf or admit to an affair with George. He remained mum.

On the same day as closing arguments, though, after a four-hour deliberation, the jury convicted Zaffino of aggravated murder. He declined comment and was then sentenced to life in prison, without the possibility of parole for at least 23 years. However, Zack's wife, Bonnie, addressed Zaffino during the sentencing, accusing him of being merely a fall guy, taking the heat while Cynthia George continued to live her opulent lifestyle. Zack's son asked him, "Was it worth it?" Both apparently wanted him to speak out and reveal the whole truth.

The question remained whether Cynthia George would be charged with anything, but at that time the police would not reveal their next move, except to say she was indeed a suspect and that they were continuing to investigate the possibility that more than one person had been involved with Zack's murder.

In December 2003, the District Court of Appeals upheld Zaffino's conviction, but Zaffino remained uncooperative.

Nearly a year later, the A&E Network aired a show about the case, "Who Whacked Zack?", which focused on the possible extent of Cynthia George's involvement. The pressure was on to make an arrest, and the police were in fact building a case.

On January 10, 2005, while Cynthia was out shopping at a Bath and Body Works store, she was placed under arrest and charged with both complicity and conspiracy to commit aggravated murder. Taken to Summit County Jail, her bond was set at $10 million. She would now have her own day in court. Given her status in the community, interest in the trial was great.

The Woman in the Middle

Cynthia, now 50, sat quietly during her arraignment, as her attorney, Michael Bowler, asked for reduced bail, which was denied. He told reporters that his client was "disappointed." She maintained that she had no involvement with the shooting of Jeff Zack. Prosecutors said they had new information that had allowed them to indict her.

They were referring to the evidence that Zaffino had planned an earlier hit on May 8 at the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, possibly aborted when a park ranger had happened by. Zaffino had been at the bridge, talking on a cell phone with Cynthia for about three hours. She was also talking with Zack at the time on another line. The ranger spotted an empty gun holster and questioned Zaffino about it. He said he'd left the gun at home and was there waiting for his girlfriend. Over a week later, a mushroom hunter came across a .32-calibre pistol in the park. Because Cynthia was on the phone with Zaffino at the time, this incident was at the heart of the conspiracy charge.

George was also charged with complicity in Zack's June 16 fatal shooting. Her bank and phone records supported the notion that she had known of the incident and was involved.

At the next hearing, the bail was reduced to $2 million, and, after her husband posted 10 percent, Cynthia was released. Since she had expected the arrest and had not fled, the judge decided she was not a flight risk, as prosecutors insisted. Restrictions were placed on her limiting how far she could travel. She entered "not guilty" pleas to the charges and left the courtroom in the company of her husband and a daughter. They knew that the possibility of her going to prison until she was seventy hung in the balance.

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.

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.

The Untold Story Revealed

After the verdict, the Beacon Journal carried a story about the downfall of Cynthia George. Born beautiful, she capitalized on it to advance herself and her ambitions. She grew up in a small bungalow, a coal miner's daughter, and she developed a dread of poverty. Yet neither that dread nor her Catholic piety had prevented her from acting in a way that threatened her marriage. Apparently, her desire for attention from men outweighed her other concerns.

Active in her high school, she was unable to afford college, where she had hoped to study art. She worked a series of mediocre jobs, but her fortune changed when she met Ed George in 1978. She was on the dance floor at his restaurant and bar. He had never been married, and she caught his eye. In 1984, they wed in style before 500 guests, although she came to view him as more a father figure than husband. He continued to work long hours and was rarely home.

Still, she lived in a million-dollar mansion, a far cry from her childhood home. Together they had five children and adopted two more, but even that wasn't enough to keep Cynthia from roaming. The nanny indicated that she had been more concerned with herself than her children. She spent a lot of money on clothing and was obsessed with her appearance.

In December 2005, Cynthia finally broke her silence to tell her story. The Cleveland Plain Dealer printed it in detail. Now 52, she explained that Zack had intimidated and frightened her. She had gone to the Zack home in 1998 to tell Bonnie about the affair, but instead of finding her, Cynthia ran into Jeff. She said he punched her in the stomach, throwing her to the garage floor. Then he grabbed her by the hair and dragged her up the steps. He pushed her into a closet and got an AK-47. Placing the end of the barrel in her mouth, he allegedly said, "You're not playing the game."

She talked about how Zack initially had made her feel special while her husband had made her the brunt of bad jokes. Zack had thought she "deserved better." He lied about being an oncologist, which had soon been revealed, but Cynthia had laughed it off. In fact, as an operator of vending machines, he had plenty of time for her, so she did not mind.

But, she claimed, when she wanted to break it off, he forced her with threats and intimidation to continue the relationship. He told her that her life was not her own to decide. He even threatened to hurt her children if she did not cooperate. He had instructions ready for her, which included a demanding schedule of calls to him. If she did not comply, he said, he would terrorize her family and torture her to death.

She grew depressed and a friend urged her to enter a beauty pageant. She did so, and came in third runner-up. She soon met Zaffino, who made her feel better. She claimed she purchased the motorcycle for him so he'd have a vehicle with which to rescue her.

Cynthia claimed she had wanted to testify during her trial, but two of her attorneys had insisted she not take the stand. While her story sounded good in places, it was never subjected to a cross-examination.

George Conviction Overturned

Cynthia then retained new attorneys, Bradley Barbin and Max Kravitz, who filed an appeal, claiming that Judge Cosgrove should not have allowed Michael Bowler and Robert Meeker to represent Cynthia, because they had brokered the suspicious deal that provided $15,500 from the Georges to Zaffino and his attorney. Due to this conflict of interest, the new legal team argued, Cynthia George had been denied effective counsel and, thus, should receive a new trial. Bowler and Meeker had argued before the trial that their involvement was legitimate because the payments were in the interest of sharing information. Cosgrove had decided that the agreement would not be prejudicial to the defendant. Now that was under scrutiny.

But the issue became moot on March 22, 2007, when the Ninth Ohio District Court of Appeals voted 2-1 to reverse Cosgrove's conviction of George. The justices ruled that the evidence was insufficient to prove guilt and ordered her to be released.

Prosecutors appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court, but on August 30, 2007, the higher court upheld the reversal. Cynthia George was declared not guilty and would therefore, by her constitutional protection from double jeopardy, be immune from any future attempt to try her for the Zack murder.

Relieved and happy, Cynthia issued a statement to the press: "Throughout this storm, our faith has sustained us. We are tattered and worn but still standing. With this decision and the closure it provides, it is time that we as a family move forward with our lives."

Zack's family believed that justice had not been done.



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