The Rev. Maurice Blackwell won a significant victory in his sexual assault case yesterday when half of the counts against him were thrown out by a Baltimore judge, who will soon decide whether to dismiss the entire case against the priest or proceed with part of it.
Circuit Judge John M. Glynn said he would issue a decision within two weeks, either voiding Blackwell's remaining charges or going forward with one or more remaining counts of sexual child abuse.
Blackwell is accused of fondling and sodomizing Dontee Stokes more than 15 years ago.
Stokes, Blackwell's former parishioner, shot and wounded the clergyman in May 2002 after confronting him about the alleged abuse.
Stokes, 28, was acquitted of attempted murder at his trial later that year, which was highly publicized because of the sex scandal in the Roman Catholic church.
Blackwell was indicted in May last year on four counts of sexual child abuse and four counts of assault stemming from alleged incidents beginning in 1989 and ending in 1992.
At yesterday's hearing, Glynn threw out four assault counts, with the defense and the prosecution agreeing that the charges are too old to prosecute.
Blackwell's trial is scheduled to begin June 3.
"On June 3rd we'll try this case, or whatever is left of this case," Glynn said.
A motion to dismiss the assault charges was brought by defense lawyer Kenneth W. Ravenell, who also argued that the the statute of limits has run out on the three fondling counts.
At the hearing yesterday, Ravenell also questioned the credibility of the final charge against Blackwell - sodomy.
Stokes did not allege he was sodomized by Blackwell until after he shot the priest, Ravenell said.
Prosecutor Jo Anne Stanton said the charges are legally sound and should go forward.
Warren A. Brown, Stokes' lawyer, pushed the state to prosecute Blackwell before Stokes' trial, going so far as yelling at prosecutors through a bullhorn on the courthouse steps.
"Now, judge, it seems very convenient that all of a sudden [Stokes] is going to allege [sodomy] when he's putting pressure on the state to prosecute," Ravenell said. "He says, 'I have more to tell you because it may benefit my case.'"
Ravenell also contended that prosecutors were swayed by the growing number of vocal victims who have said they were abused by Catholic priests.
"The allegations should not be based on the fact that there was a political climate and allegations [against] priests around the country," Ravenell argued.
However, Stanton argued against dismissing Blackwell's four sex abuse charges.
"The biggest problem in the defendant's argument is that politics played a part in the state's case," she said.
Stanton said that it is common for abuse victims to talk more about their molestation as they age.
"As a child matures, the child becomes more able to talk about the full nature of the offenses that occurred," Stanton said.
"And I guess more able to shoot people, too," Ravenell said.
"Well, apparently," said Glynn.
During Stokes' trial in 2002, Stokes testified that he shot Blackwell, the priest who baptized him, three times in the hand and hip with a .357 Magnum handgun. He said Blackwell molested him when he was a teen-ager, and he was confronting the priest to find "reconciliation."
In a police report, Stokes said he became angry when the priest pretended to ignore him that day.