Maurice Blackwell

Maurice Blackwell leaves the courthouse in Baltimore after being convicted of the sexual abuse of Dontee Stokes when Stokes was a child. He is free until sentencing, scheduled for April 15. (Sun photo by Elizabeth Malby / February 17, 2005)

Maurice Blackwell, the former priest of St. Edward Roman Catholic Church in West Baltimore, was convicted yesterday of molesting a parish choirboy, who years later shot him.

The defrocked priest, found guilty of three counts of child sexual abuse that took place in the early 1990s, could be sentenced to up to 45 years in prison on April 15 by Baltimore Circuit Judge Stuart R. Berger.

Blackwell, 58, was acquitted of one count of abuse for incidents that were alleged to have occurred in 1989.

The weeklong trial attracted national attention because the accuser, Dontee Stokes, shot him in May 2002 at the height of the national priest abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church. Stokes, now 29, was acquitted of attempted murder but convicted of weapons violations. He served home detention.

Blackwell became the 271st Roman Catholic priest convicted of sexual abuse since 1965. He was defrocked in October by Pope John Paul II and has not been a pastor since 1998, when he admitted having had a sexual relationship with another teenage boy in the 1970s.

After the verdict, Blackwell, who uses a cane because of the shooting, made no comment as he entered a waiting minivan.

Stokes, a barber and the father of two little girls, said his life has been on hold waiting for Blackwell's trial.

"I feel vindicated, to a certain extent," he said as he stood outside the courthouse among family members and supporters, including Warren A. Brown, the defense attorney from his attempted murder trial. "I'm thankful there's going to be some closure. This is over."

But Blackwell's attorney, Kenneth W. Ravenell, said he would request a new trial, adding that Berger admitted he had failed to maintain an atmosphere of fairness. Three times, prosecution witnesses - two of them detectives - made references to "other possible victims" of Blackwell, which the judge had prohibited. Berger told jurors to disregard the comments.

"We're obviously disappointed with the way this case was handled," Ravenell said. "It's impossible to tell people to ignore something."

Characterizing the mention of other victims as "pretty deadly stuff," University of Maryland law professor Abraham Dash said the defense has "an extra arrow in their quiver" if the conviction is appealed.

Dash also said Berger's comment on Tuesday that he had "failed" to keep jurors from hearing references to other victims could be an indication that he will "do the unusual" and grant Ravenell's motion for a new trial. "Saying he has failed in any way is like testifying for the defense," Dash said.

Reached by telephone yesterday afternoon, juror Valerie S. Cunningham answered only one question, saying that she had "no knowledge" of any juror who was swayed by what the detectives said about other victims.

After listening to three days of testimony, the jury deliberated for about six hours over two days before reaching a decision. Jurors included five African-American women, three African-American men, one white woman and three white men. Their occupations included teacher, artist, cashier and computer programmer.

When contacted by phone, most refused to comment. "We've decided as a collective group," said juror Sandra F. Doyle.

But one juror who spoke last night, Anthony C. Long, said they found agreement by asking themselves why Stokes shot Blackwell if no abuse had occurred.

In his emotional testimony, Stokes recounted in explicit detail molestation by Blackwell that he said escalated from fatherly hugs to groping and grinding to an instance of oral sex and an attempted rape in the church rectory.

At one point Stokes rose from his chair on the witness stand and addressed Blackwell directly. He recalled that the priest had just gotten out of the shower and had taken the teenager's hands and used them to touch his bare chest. "Remember? You took your hands ... "

During relentless cross-examination, Ravenell questioned Stokes' mental stability, pointing out his beliefs in out-of-body experiences, witchcraft and alien abduction. The defense attorney also probed Stokes' feelings about homosexuality.