Chesley “C.J.” Black’s eldest daughter has one nagging question she asks about her father: Can he come back to hurt her and her sister like he did their mother?
The 4-year-old girl and her sister, 2, were present in September when their father stabbed their mother in their West Ashley home and left her to die, authorities said.
Today, the girls live with relatives of their mother, Amanda Kalman Black, but the memory of that night is never far off.
Amanda’s uncle, Don Gresh, who has temporary custody of the kids, told a judge Friday that he must regularly reassure the older girl that he won’t let Black hurt her. That promise will become harder to keep if Black is able to post bail and get out of jail, where he has held since his September arrest, Gresh said.
“It makes us all very nervous,” Gresh said, speaking in a packed Charleston County courtroom. “We would remain in constant fear that at some point in time he could show up and God only knows what would happen.”
Circuit Judge Markley Dennis said he empathized with Amanda’s family, but Black enjoys the presumption of innocence and is entitled to a shot at seeking bail.
Dennis set the 30-year-old suspect’s bail at $500,000 on a murder charge. If he posts bail, Black will be under house arrest, subject to electronic monitoring, barred from contact with his children and prevented from going within 20 miles of Gresh’s home or 10 miles of the Fife Lane crime scene.
Dennis’ order came the same day Black’s lawyer raised the prospect that Black will claim self-defense in his 25-year-old wife’s killing. Public defender Megan Ehrlich said Black, in his statements to police, accused his wife of being the aggressor that night and charging at him with a knife.
“There are certainly issues of self-defense here,” Ehrlich said.
Prosecutors said evidence in the case does not support a self-defense claim.
Black is accused of stabbing his wife in the neck during a violent argument Sept. 8 in their home. He then reportedly spent the night there with his two daughters while his wife lay dead, her body placed in a downstairs bathroom. Authorities learned of the killing the next day after his eldest daughter told her aunt, “Daddy killed Mommy.”
Beverlie Holcomb, Amanda’s older sister, said her family is deeply disappointed Black might soon be released from jail.
“I don’t feel like that is justice for the family,” she said after the hearing. “He took my sister’s life, and that should count for something.”
Assistant Solicitor Chad Simpson had argued against bail for Black, who has ties to people in Washington, Hawaii, Costa Rica and Georgia. He is also due a $3,200 tax refund, which would give him funds to flee the state, he said.
Ehrlich, however, said her client is a former landscaper and a man of modest means, with no plans to leave the area. Friends from church plan to help him find a place to stay while awaiting trial, she said.
Black, shackled and dressed in a striped jail jumpsuit, said nothing during the hearing.
When detectives first interviewed him, Black said he and his wife had gotten into an argument over money, that he stabbed her and that he put her body in the bathroom to keep their children away, authorities said.
The next day, he dropped off his daughters at the home of relatives before he was arrested in Sumter.
Holcomb said her sister and Black had a stormy, volatile relationship that had its ups and downs over five years.
“It was a roller coaster thing, and problems would mainly happen when he would drink. It would change him and then they would argue,” she said. “But then he found God and went to church. She was telling everyone that he had changed and that we should accept him. And then this happened.”
Holcomb said she doesn’t think Black would harm his daughters if released. But then she never thought he would have harmed her sister either. Or that he could calmly talk with her in the hours after Amanda had been stabbed to death, pretending that nothing had happened, she said.
At the conclusion of Friday’s hearing, Holcomb and others made their way to Amanda’s grave to lay flowers and say a few words of remembrance. “It just helped to sit and talk with her as we try make sense of this all.”
Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556 or Twitter.com/glennsmith5.