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  Blackwell Says He's Innocent of Sex Crimes
Former Priest Describes Alleged Victim As 'Mentally Disturbed'

WBAL [Baltimore MD]
February 9, 2005

BALTIMORE -- A day before his trial, a defrocked priest broke a long silence on Wednesday to assert his innocence against child sex abuse allegations by a man who shot the cleric three times in 2002 during the widely publicized child abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church.

It was the first time Maurice Blackwell, who now walks with a cane as a result of the attack, has spoken publicly about the case. He is charged with four counts of child sexual abuse between 1989 and 1992 - a decade before Dontee Stokes shot him. Jury selection begins Thursday.

In the past 10 years, he has lost "most of what a person holds dear," Blackwell said.

"I have lost my good name and reputation, my peace of mind -- even my health and physical mobility have been impaired over something I did not do," Blackwell said at a news conference in his attorney's office.

Blackwell, 58, described Stokes as a mentally disturbed young man who made the allegations in hopes of getting money out of him and the Catholic Church.

Stokes, who was baptized as a baby by Blackwell and who served as an altar boy at St. Edward Catholic Church in west Baltimore, could not immediately be reached for comment. Stokes was acquitted of attempted murder in December 2002 but convicted on gun charges. He testified that he had an "out-of-body experience" at the time of the shooting. He served 18 months on home detention.

Warren Brown, Stokes' attorney, described Blackwell's statement as a "lame" and "transparent" effort to shift blame to others in hopes of avoiding the witness stand. He said Stokes, who was expected to testify, was glad the trial finally has arrived after being postponed several times.

"He is the linchpin of their case," Brown said of Stokes.

Blackwell, who was defrocked by the Vatican in October, said the church abandoned him and "orchestrated my defrocking." He also blamed "media sensationalism."

Blackwell attributed the charges against him to "the power and evil of money: its allure for those who are willing to deceive to get it, for a shepherd willing to desert one of his own to keep it, for those willing to defame an innocent man to make it."

Blackwell was surrounded by friends and family when he read his statement. He did not take questions from reporters.

In 1993, when the allegations first surfaced, Blackwell said he met with a detective investigating the charges to deny the accusations and offered to take a polygraph test.

He also said police reports have disclosed that within a month of allegations in 1993, "a well-known attorney contacted the police to indicate that the Stokes family had retained her to pursue civil litigation against me and the Catholic Church."

"I have lost my good name and reputation, my peace of mind -- even my health and physical mobility have been impaired over something I did not do."

- Maurice Blackwell

Kenneth Ravenell, Blackwell's attorney, said he believes his client can get a fair trial.

"This is a man who was almost killed by Dontee Stokes, and people seem to have forgotten that," Ravenell said. "It's amazing in our society that someone can be shot and left for dead and all of a sudden people seem to rally around the person who shot him - all believing something without knowing all the details."

For strength during the trial, the former priest said he was turning to the Biblical figure Job, "who fought for his vindication in the face of universal disbelief in him, and who was anything but silent."

Blackwell also thanked his family, especially his mother, and friends for supporting him, saying: "I always thought that I would be my mother's caretaker, never imagining that at the age of 83 she would be my caretaker."

Stokes made accusations against Blackwell in 1993, but Blackwell denied the allegations and no other alleged victims came forward at the time. Blackwell received psychological treatment and returned to his parish, although he was barred from working with children and young adults.

Subsequently, a second person accused Blackwell of abusing him in the early 1970s. Blackwell acknowledged a relationship had occurred with that person, and the Archdiocese of Baltimore removed him from the ministry in 1998.

 
 

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