Mental evaluation ordered for suspect in priest's shooting

Sun Staff

A Baltimore judge ordered a mental evaluation yesterday for Dontee D. Stokes, who pleaded to be allowed to go home to await trial on charges of shooting a Roman Catholic priest he says sexually abused him years ago.

Stokes, who said he was "depressed but not suicidal," appeared calm as District Judge H. Gary Bass deferred a decision on bail until tomorrow, to allow time for evaluation of the 26-year-old barber.

The Rev. Maurice Blackwell, whom Stokes is accused of shooting three times Monday night, remained in fair condition at Maryland Shock Trauma Center last night. But members of Stokes' family, more than a dozen of whom crowded into the courtroom for yesterday's brief bail hearing, argued that Stokes, too, was a victim.

"He's shamed. All he wanted was an apology, and he couldn't get that," said cousin Travis Winkey. "He did what he did, and he shouldn't have done it. But when things are all bottled up inside of you, this can happen."

Stokes is being held without bail and on suicide watch in the hospital of the Baltimore City Detention Center.

His family was not alone in portraying Stokes as a victim. A spokeswoman for the city state's attorney's office said last night that prosecutors had believed Stokes' assertions in 1993, when he was 17, that Blackwell had fondled him over a three-year period. But prosecutors have said that they declined to charge the priest with fourth-degree sexual assault because they could find no corroborating witnesses.

"We could not be more unequivocal about the fact that we believe the victim," said Margaret T. Burns, a spokeswoman for the state's attorney's office.

Burns said the file on the case is thick with documents, including reports of extensive interviews a detective conducted in a vain attempt to bolster the case.

"There's no one who witnessed the touching, there was no physical evidence, no one who could substantiate that it was happening in and around the church at that time," she said.

The Archdiocese Of Baltimore briefly removed Blackwell from St. Edward Catholic Church when the allegations surfaced and sent him to the Institute of Living in Hartford, Conn., a prominent psychiatric treatment center for treating sexual abuse by clergy.

Cardinal William H. Keeler reinstated Blackwell after his three-month stay at the institute - a decision that an independent review board faulted publicly at the time, despite Keeler's stipulations that Blackwell no longer counsel young men and move out of the parish rectory.

P. McEvoy Cromwell, chairman of the nine-member lay board appointed by the archdiocese to review abuse allegations against priests and other church employees, said last night that he still believes Keeler made a mistake in not removing Blackwell from the parish.

"There's no disputing that the young man was credible. We found him credible," said Cromwell. A Pastoral Response Team - two members of the clergy and an archdiocese attorney who investigated the case - also said Stokes was credible.

After Keeler reinstated Blackwell, the board took the unusual step of publicly disagreeing with that decision in a letter to Keeler published in The Catholic Review in 1994. Keeler defended his decision, citing the institute's evaluation of Blackwell, which the board had not seen.

Four years later, Blackwell was placed on involuntary leave after admitting to a sexual liaison with another minor two decades earlier. He is executive director of a state-subsidized, interfaith program for recovering drug addicts.

Stokes told police he shot the 56-year-old priest Monday night after confronting him on Reservoir Street outside his home and demanding an apology for the alleged sexual assault.

Stokes turned himself in to police later that night, after attending a Baptist church service. He then led police to the .357-caliber Magnum used in the shooting, which police say he had hidden in a tree by a vacant house in Northwest Baltimore. Authorities say he purchased the handgun illegally a month ago. The gun had three empty casings and three live rounds in it, according to prosecutors.

Stokes' lawyer, Thomas McNicholas, said yesterday that Stokes, who has a Catholic school education and has worked as a barber for the past 10 years, has led an "exemplary life and is a prime candidate for some type of bail."

He said recent publicity of sex abuse in the Catholic Church might have sent Stokes over the edge. "This recent Catholic scandal, I submit, triggered pent-up emotions and retraumatized him," McNicholas said. "There's some mental issues here."

Via video monitor, Stokes pleaded with the judge to let him go home as his mother, Tamara Stokes, and other relatives wept.

"I'm not a flight risk, and I'm not a risk to myself. I haven't been for many years," said Stokes, who said he had most recently tried to kill himself with an overdose of pills in 1993 or 1994, when he went public with his allegations.

"I'm depressed but not suicidal," he said. "If you could allow me to come home, that would be the best thing for me."

But Assistant State's Attorney Sylvester Cox requested no change in Stokes' bail status and said he does not foresee softening his view after he reviews the evaluation.

He argued to the judge that Stokes is still a threat to Blackwell, who was shot once in the hand and twice near his left hip. "He may have continuing angst with regard to the victim," Cox said. "The state's attorney's office feels he might be a danger."

Stokes is charged with first-degree attempted murder, first-degree assault, second-degree assault and various handgun charges. If convicted on all charges, he could be sentenced to life in prison.

He will be evaluated by staff at the Medical Services of the Circuit Court of Baltimore City, which is an "exceptional" move for a bail-review hearing, said Judge Stuart R. Berger, who oversees the Circuit Court's criminal docket.

"It's not a frequent course we use at the bail-review stage," Berger said. "It is the exceptional circumstance."

After the hearing, Stokes' mother, a postal worker and real estate agent, tearfully declined to comment. But a cousin, Nadine Stokes Bailey, said: "I wish he had already been evaluated so we could take him home. He needs spiritual healing, and his family can give him that."

Family members at the hearing wore small black-and-white ribbons on their lapels in support of Stokes. The white ribbon was meant to represent the innocence of a child, Bailey explained, and black was for the child who hides sex abuse. She said the family would be passing the ribbons around Baltimore.

Blackwell, who was credited with revitalizing St. Edward's and remains popular among some parishioners and neighbors, could not be reached for comment. Relatives approached outside his house yesterday refused to speak with a reporter.

Sun staff writers Scott Shane and Del Quentin Wilber contributed to this article.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad