On her first full day of freedom, Jacqueline L. Bouknight said yesterday that she did not spend 7 1/2 years in jail for civil contempt in vain if it meant her son, Maurice, was in a home "where he don't have to be harassed and stuff, like I was."
Being incarcerated was "just something I just had to do," Ms. Bouknight said during a brief news conference at the office of her lawyer, M. Cristina Gutierrez. "It was what I believed in. It was right."
Judge David B. Mitchell ordered Ms. Bouknight, 29, released from the Baltimore City Detention Center on Tuesday, 2,741 days after she went to jail on a civil contempt order for refusing to produce Maurice. The judge also ordered Ms. Bouknight not to contact Maurice unless a psychological evaluation or some other evidence shows she is a fit parent.
Judge Mitchell also said he believed that Ms. Bouknight abused Maurice before he disappeared, and that he feared Maurice was dead.
Ms. Bouknight has maintained that she was protecting her son from the foster care system in which she grew up. Her incarceration has been one of the longest in the nation for civil contempt. An Illinois man who refused to produce his daughter after being convicted of kidnapping her has been held several months longer.
Ms. Bouknight said she was "angry and frustrated" at charges during a hearing Tuesday that she abused her son and deceived investigators with a story about giving Maurice to a friend named "Rachael Anderson" years ago.
"I was angry about everything that was said, the lies and stuff," Ms. Bouknight said. "Now it's just like, I'm not supposed to have any kind of feeling about what they're saying. I'm not supposed to feel angry.
"I just couldn't believe it. After all I sacrificed, and then you hear something like that before you walk out of the courtroom."
She said she imagined her son, who would be 9 now, as "a good child. Like before I got locked up. Sweet, lovable."
Ms. Gutierrez would not allow Ms. Bouknight to speak about any details of the case or to discuss how she might try to find her son. Ms. Bouknight did say she was interested in doing so.
In a confidential report filed with the court Monday and obtained by The Sun, attorneys for Maurice described three meetings early this year in which Ms. Bouknight laid out a detailed account of her contacts with "Rachael."
The attorneys wrote that they tried to verify the information through records in Baltimore and North Carolina, where Ms. Bouknight said "Rachael" lived before Ms. Bouknight lost contact with her several years ago.
The report concluded that the attorneys and police could not verify "Rachael's" existence as described by Ms. Bouknight through motor vehicle, school, foster care and other records, and that "we very much doubt her existence at all."
Ms. Gutierrez called the report "unverified, inaccurate, untruthful." She said it was evidence of "grandstanding" by other attorneys who never cared that Ms. Bouknight was languishing in jail or that Maurice was missing.
"We maintain that they never seriously looked. They didn't care to find him," Ms. Gutierrez said.
Ms. Bouknight's lawyers declined to describe in detail how the lawyers' report was inaccurate, saying their position was that its information should not be disclosed and that they had not had time to study it in detail.
"It was prepared as an advocacy document by lawyers for Maurice," said attorney Michael Millemann, who also represents Ms. Bouknight. "It is not a report, it's a brief."
Meanwhile, Ms. Gutierrez said she and Ms. Bouknight are reviewing the judge's conditions about contacting Maurice and discussing whether the order might cause Ms. Bouknight to be found in contempt of court again.