Jacqueline L. Bouknight finally won release from jail yesterday after spending more than seven years there for civil contempt, still defying a judge's pleas to provide the whereabouts of her son, Maurice, after an emotional hearing in which attorneys alternately called her heroine and villain.
Reading a 13-page opinion about the historic case, Baltimore Circuit Judge David B. Mitchell railed against the 29-year-old mother, saying that he found she had abused her child and could still be a danger to him.
He barred Ms. Bouknight from having any contact, physical or otherwise, with her son unless a psychological evaluation or some other evidence comes forth to show she is a fit parent.
Her attorney said she would urge Ms. Bouknight to contest that order.
Ms. Bouknight walked out of the Baltimore City Detention Center with a shy smile at about 8 o'clock last night, saying only "Thank you," to a television reporter who offered congratulations.
Her attorney, M. Cristina Gutierrez, drove her to an undisclosed location, taking along three trash bags full of property accumulated during her years in jail.
In asking for her release "with regret," Maryland Deputy Attorney General Ralph S. Tyler III said, "Ms. Bouknight terrorized this child. Ms. Bouknight is not Joan of Arc. Ms. Bouknight is no one's role model. Ms. Bouknight is not Mother of the Year."
But Michael Millemann, one of her lawyers, compared her civil disobedience, which he said was out of "commitment to her son," to the principles championed by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
"To paraphrase a recent event in our history: She is not him," Judge Mitchell replied to that comparison.
"There is simply nothing to indicate Maurice is alive. We earnestly hope Maurice is alive. Our fear is that he is dead."
As for Ms. Bouknight, she was as silent during yesterday's two-hour hearing as she has been for much of her long time
When the judge announced she could not contact Maurice, Ms. Bouknight exhaled sharply and leaned forward, shaking her head. She was returned to the Baltimore City Detention Center after the hearing for processing.
John Brown, a former foster father of Ms. Bouknight with whom she also lived as an adult, said he had told Ms. Bouknight she could live with him until she finds a place of her own.
"I hope she'll make it. She should make it," Mr. Brown said. "She's excited about coming out. One thing I tell her is that she should change her friends," he said, referring to Ms. Bouknight's association with drug users in the past.
Maurice's father, Terrance Miles, was killed in a drug-related shooting in 1988.
The historic case, which went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court five years ago, pitted the right of a child to be protected against his mother's constitutional rights.
Judge Mitchell jailed Ms. Bouknight for contempt April 28, 1988, after a social worker reported Maurice had not been seen for months and appeared to be missing.
Maurice had been in foster care for several months in 1987 after sustaining bone fractures that social workers suspected came from abuse. Ms. Bouknight had won him back on the condition that she would produce the boy for social workers at any time.
But Ms. Bouknight did not produce Maurice, and said he was with relatives. When that didn't check out, she refused to say anything more for a time. Lately, she has said Maurice was with a friend named "Rachael Anderson," and that she was hiding him to keep him from the foster care system in which she grew up.
Ms. Bouknight's incarceration has been one of the longest in the country for civil contempt. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1990 that she could not use her Fifth Amendment right against compelled self-incrimination to avoid the contempt order.
But her attorneys continued to assert that right even after the Supreme Court decision, advising her not to answer any of the court's questions at a number of subsequent hearings, according to Mitchell Y. Mirviss, a court-appointed attorney for Maurice.
He charged yesterday that it was Ms. Bouknight and her lawyers that kept her behind bars for so long, and criticized the attorneys for not filing petitions of habeas corpus or pursuing other available means to end the stalemate earlier.
At one point, he addressed Ms. Bouknight directly, prompting strenuous objections from her attorneys.
"Jackie, it's a tragedy that you have let this thing go on for seven years," Mr. Mirviss said. "You should know we tried everything possible to end this case earlier."
Ms. Gutierrez called those charges "grandstanding" and said her client "does not consent to the truth of what they allege."
"What she's done, she's done on behalf of her child. I know of no parent who has proved the love of her child by staying in jail for 7 1/2 years," Mr. Millemann said.
Ms. Bouknight's attorneys insisted their client had been victimized for trying to cooperate with police to find Maurice. Every time she started to help again, other lawyers in their case would withdraw their support for her release on the grounds that her cooperation meant that keeping her jailed was having some helpful effect.
In a confidential report to the court filed this week, Maurice's lawyers detailed Ms. Bouknight's most recent explanations of where her son had gone, and their efforts to check out the information.
According to the report, Ms. Bouknight told the lawyers:
* That she spoke to Maurice in 1991 or 1992, but was unable to after that because the state took over the City Jail and restricted phone access. She indicated that Maurice knew who she was and that he called her "Mommy."
* That Maurice lived in Kinston, N.C., with a woman named Rachael Anderson and two siblings. Ms. Bouknight was familiar with Kinston, having visited there a number of times when she was young and in foster care herself.
* That she had gotten about 12 letters from Rachael at the jail, and that the letters stopped coming in 1992. Rachael was her main friend in childhood, Ms. Bouknight said, and her family had complained to social workers about the treatment Ms. Bouknight received in foster care in Baltimore.
Ms. Bouknight also provided a number of specific details about "Rachael" and Maurice. But the lawyers wrote that, along with Baltimore police Detective Tyrone S. Francis, they tracked down every element of the story they could, checking motor vehicle, vital statistics, school and foster-care records.
"We cannot verify the existence of a Rachael Anderson as described by Ms. Bouknight; indeed, we very much doubt her existence at all," the report concluded.
"If Rachael Anderson does not exist, Ms. Bouknight has apparently concocted a detailed story and enlisted outside help, acts which require clever planning and execution."
The report said "there is a solid basis to believe that Ms. Bouknight is capable of pulling off such a fabrication," pointing to a case in 1988 when Ms. Bouknight allegedly stole from her physician employer, after Maurice disappeared, to pay for a life insurance premium for the boy.
Ms. Bouknight cited her distrust of DSS to relatives and police when the case began, saying social workers liked to "snatch people's children" and that she didn't want Maurice to go through the tumult she said she endured in 11 foster-care placements over 13 years.
She also said she hadn't done anything wrong.
Highlights of the case of Maurice, as chronicled by lawyers, Judge David B. Mitchell and court records:
* Oct. 3, 1986: Maurice is born to Jacqueline Bouknight at Francis Scott Key Medical Center.
* January 1987: Maurice is hospitalized at Francis Scott Key with a broken left femur. Doctors discover old fractures. A month later, the Baltimore City Department of Social Services wins an order to put Maurice in foster care.
* August 1987: Ms. Bouknight wins Maurice back from a juvenile master after taking parenting classes and working with an in-home aide. She agrees to produce the baby for DSS at any time.
* September 1987: Maurice is seen by a social worker, who notes he is in good condition, for the last time.
* April 1988: Social worker, unable to find Maurice, petitions court to demand his production. Ms. Bouknight refuses to produce him and is jailed for contempt of court.
* December 1988: Maryland Court of Appeals declares that holding Ms. Bouknight violates her right against compelled
* February 1990: U.S. Supreme Court overturns Court of Appeals.
* 1991: Hearings begin anew in juvenile court. Ms. Bouknight refuses to answer questions. Lawyers for Maurice move for sanctions against Bouknight lawyer M. Cristina Gutierrez for continuing to advise Ms. Bouknight of a Fifth Amendment right.
* 1992: Parties negotiate a hypothetical agreement to keep Maurice away from foster care if he is in a safe home.
* 1993: Ms. Bouknight's lawyers move for her release. At a closed hearing, Ms. Bouknight says Maurice is with a friend she will not name.
* 1994: Maurice's lawyers withdraw a motion for Ms. Bouknight's release after Ms. Bouknight begins giving information to a city police detective.
* January 1995: At a hearing, Ms. Bouknight says a woman named "Rachael Anderson" has Maurice.
* Oct. 31, 1995: Ms. Bouknight is ordered released from jail after the judge finds that incarceration will not lead to the production of her son.