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  Ex-Priest Guilty of Sex Abuse
Md. Jury Convicts on 3 of 4 Counts

By Allison Klein
Washington Post [Baltimore MD]
February 18, 2005

Maurice Blackwell, a defrocked Roman Catholic priest, was convicted by a Baltimore jury yesterday of sexually abusing former altar boy Dontee Stokes. The verdicts came more than two years after Stokes took out his anger toward the former clergyman by shooting him.

The Circuit Court jury deliberated for more than five hours over two days before finding Blackwell, 58, guilty of three counts of sexual child abuse that occurred from 1990 to 1992. Each count carries a possible 15-year prison term. The jury acquitted Blackwell of one count of sexually abusing Stokes in 1989.

Stokes, 29, said after the verdicts that he was relieved the trial was over but saddened that the man he once considered a father figure would not apologize to him.

"It is a sad situation because someone who had the potential to do so much good is so sick," Stokes said. "It's sad that he would rather stand there and go to trial rather than apologize and take responsibility for his own actions."

The prosecution of Blackwell depended largely on the credibility of Stokes, who testified at the trial that Blackwell sexually abused him repeatedly when he was a teenager. Blackwell's attorney, during cross-examination, tried to raise doubts about Stokes's mental state.

At his trial in 2002, Stokes admitted that he shot Blackwell three times on a west Baltimore street. He was convicted of minor handgun counts and served eight months of home detention. But he was acquitted of attempted murder after telling jurors that he was emotionally overwhelmed by the abuse he had suffered and that he shot Blackwell during an "out-of-body experience."

"How can we not consider the abundance of Mr. Stokes's mental disorders?" defense attorney Kenneth W. Ravenell told the jury in his closing argument Wednesday.

After the verdicts, Stokes said Blackwell's trial was "a secondary trial against myself. They made me the defendant once again."

The sexual abuse case against Blackwell is just one of many against Roman Catholic clergy across the country. After the Boston Globe in 2002 revealed that church officials in Massachusetts had long tolerated pedophilia among priests, the scandal spread nationwide, as hundreds of victims in other dioceses came forward.

At Blackwell's trial, Stokes testified that when Blackwell was pastor of a west Baltimore church in the early 1990s, he gave Stokes fatherly hugs, which progressed into sexual groping and rape. Stokes said the incident occurred in the church rectory.

Assistant State's Attorney Jo Anne Stanton, who prosecuted Blackwell, said she thought the jury had a difficult time deciding the case. "These types of cases are never good for anybody -- the victim or the accused," she said.

Through his attorney, Blackwell continued to assert that he is innocent.

"He is disappointed but relying strongly on his faith," said Ravenell, adding that his client intends to appeal. "He believes the verdict will be overturned."

Stokes alleged in 1993 that Blackwell molested him, but Baltimore police and prosecutors said at the time that they did not have enough evidence to charge Blackwell. Baltimore's archbishop, Cardinal William H. Keeler, removed Blackwell from his church for 90 days and sent him for a mental evaluation. Keeler eventually reinstated him.

Five years later, Blackwell was suspended from the priesthood after he admitted sexually abusing a teenager in the 1970s, the Baltimore archdiocese said.

In 2002, after Stokes shot Blackwell, Stokes changed his account and said that Blackwell had gone beyond molesting him and had raped him. In 2003, prosecutors reopened the case and brought the matter before a grand jury, which indicted Blackwell.

The Vatican defrocked Blackwell in October.

Stokes's attorney, Warren A. Brown, who pushed the Baltimore prosecutors' office to charge Blackwell, said yesterday that he is satisfied with the outcome.

"I'm happy for Dontee because this is the public saying, 'We believe it happened,' " Brown said. "That's all he ever wanted."

 
 

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