Black Friday Sale: Get 75% off a digital subscription

Blackwell is convicted of molesting teen Stokes

Sun Staff

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.

Ravenell suggested that Stokes fabricated the molestation story, in part to rationalize psychological conflicts about his sexual orientation. Ravenell said Stokes' allegations of the more serious sex acts were made only to bolster his own defense against the attempted murder charges.

Ravenell reiterated those points in his closing argument Wednesday, but Stanton, in hers, asked jurors to consider why Stokes, who was acquitted more than two years ago, would still be adamant in his allegations against Blackwell.

Stokes' claims first surfaced at age 17 in 1993, when he told a counselor that Blackwell had been inappropriately touching him for years. After a police investigation, prosecutors declined to press charges, saying there wasn't enough evidence.

Stokes' dormant accusations against Blackwell took on new urgency on May 13, 2002, when Stokes drove to Blackwell's Reservoir Hill home, asked for an apology and, when he didn't get one, pulled out an illegally purchased .357 Magnum revolver and shot the priest three times.

Shortly before Stokes was to stand trial, he disclosed for the first time allegations of oral sex and attempted rape, acts that he said occurred one evening in the church rectory when he was 16. As a result of the attempted murder acquittal and conviction on lesser charges, he served 18 months of home detention.

Months later, Blackwell was indicted for child sexual abuse.

The detective who first investigated Stokes' abuse claims, Lt. Frederick V. Roussey, testified Monday. He called Stokes "credible" and faulted prosecutors for closing his investigation.

Berger threatened to hold Roussey and Det. Shawn Harrison, who investigated Blackwell in 2002, in contempt of court because they referred to "other victims" during testimony and later on television. Berger said he will decide the contempt issue after Blackwell's sentencing.

Berger barred the testimony of Robert Martin, a prosecution rebuttal witness who alleges a similar pattern of abuse by Blackwell. The judge said Blackwell's prior misdeeds might unfairly prejudice the jury. It was Martin's account that led the archdiocese to strip Blackwell of his church authority in 1998.

Martin, who is 50, flew in from Baton Rouge, La., for the trial. He and Stokes embraced after a news conference that followed the verdict.

"I feel that justice was done," Martin said, adding that he was allowing his name to be used for the first time since he made the allegations against Blackwell. "It's not going to help me with my issues, but I was behind Dontee all along."

Both Blackwell and Stokes have said they were abandoned by the Catholic Church that had once played such a huge role in their lives.

Blackwell was one of the first African-American priests to be ordained by the Archdiocese Of Baltimore, in 1974. He became pastor of St. Edward's in 1979, and his dynamic speaking style and fusion of Catholic and African-American values helped him increase the congregation's membership from 100 to 900 families over two decades.

Stokes, who was baptized by Blackwell at age 2, joined the youth group at St. Edward's when he was about 13 and became active in that group and in the church youth choir.

But Stokes said his close relationship with Blackwell morphed into something inappropriate. Blackwell has steadfastly denied Stokes' allegations, his lawyer said.

Blackwell has made only one public statement proclaiming his innocence. He did not testify at Stokes' trial or his own.

"I still believe that God will see me through this ordeal even though the church has forsaken me," he said at a news conference on the eve of his trial.

Stokes said he and his family were shunned by St. Edward's and church officials after he made his claims in 1993. He said he still considers himself a Catholic - "it is within me" - but he attends Set the Captive Free Outreach Center in Woodlawn.

His mother, Tamara Stokes Morrison, said she is still angry at the religion in which she was raised. She said yesterday that "not one man of God" stood behind her son during Blackwell's trial.

Word came about 10:30 a.m. yesterday that the jury had reached its verdict. Stokes' relatives, who crammed into several benches of the small courtroom, squeezed hands and bowed their heads as the jury foreman, a 37-year-old postgraduate student, rose to read the verdict.

Thomasine Wells, the aunt who took her young nephew, Dontee, to St. Edward's so that he could participate in youth activities, wept silently and held her hand over her heart.

As she left the courtroom, Wells said, "I'm going to church. I'm going to thank God."

Sun staff writers Ryan Davis, Jill Rosen and Janice D'Arcy contributed to this article.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun