Saying he was taking the action "with great reluctance," a deputy state attorney general formally asked a judge yesterday to release Jacqueline L. Bouknight, but he also sought to prevent her from contacting the son whose whereabouts she has guarded for more than seven years.
The action means that Ms. Bouknight, who has been in jail for civil contempt of court since shortly after her child disappeared in 1988, is likely to be released at a hearing Tuesday.
Deputy Attorney General Ralph S. Tyler III has argued for years that Ms. Bouknight should remain jailed as long as there was hope that jail would persuade her to produce the boy, whom she previously abused. He called it tragic that the boy, Maurice, has not been found.
"In the face of years of effort which have been met with years of unlawful defiance and total intransigence, [the Baltimore City Department of Social Services] is no longer able to argue that further incarceration of Ms. Bouknight is likely to advance the effort to locate Maurice M.," Mr. Tyler wrote to Baltimore Circuit Judge David B. Mitchell in a motion filed yesterday.
"No one who believes in the rule of law can take any joy or find any pride in this outcome, for it represents a triumph, albeit after consid[See Bouknight, 5B] erable
[Bouknight, from Page 1B]
personal sacrifice, of unlawful defiance over due process."
Mr. Tyler's turnabout means that all parties in the case will be in agreement on Ms. Bouknight's release at Tuesday's hearing. But the conditions he is seeking for her release could provoke opposition.
Attorneys in the case have suggested in the past that the best way to find Maurice would be to free Ms. Bouknight and monitor her attempts to find him if he is alive. Some investigators, however, believe the boy died long ago at Ms. Bouknight's hands.
Ms. Bouknight's incarceration has been one of the country's longest for civil contempt. Judge Mitchell ordered her jailed in April 1988 when she refused to produce Maurice, then 18 months old. The baby had been hospitalized with a broken leg at the age of 3 months; while he was in the hospital, witnesses observed the boy being shaken by his mother.
Maurice was placed in foster care because of the abuse. Ms. Bouknight won him back after taking classes in parental skills and agreeing to produce Maurice for the Department of Social Services at any time. But social workers lost track of mother and NTC child; by the time they caught up with Ms. Bouknight, Maurice was gone.
Citing the abuse, Mr. Tyler asked Judge Mitchell yesterday to condition Ms. Bouknight's release on "explicit terms, violation of which would be punishable by proceedings for contempt." He asked the court to order that Ms. Bouknight have no physical contact with Maurice and to prohibit her from visiting him, contacting him by mail or phone, or arranging to do so through a third party.
"What they've said is that they want to make sure [they are] not legally responsible for this child," said M. Cristina Gutierrez, Ms. Bouknight's lawyer. "They want to make sure now that nobody finds him."
Ms. Gutierrez and Mitchell Y. Mirviss, attorney for the missing boy, said they had just received the motion and would respond to it Tuesday.
Mr. Tyler also asked the court to conduct a review of Ms. Bouknight's plans after her release and to relieve the Department of Social Services from any legal obligation for Maurice's safety, since the department cannot find the boy to supervise him.
In his motion, Mr. Tyler wrote that "numerous efforts" had been undertaken by the parties in the case, the judge and others to find the boy.
Although Ms. Bouknight has cooperated in "fleeting moments," he wrote, the case offers no promise of ending with the boy returned.