Prosecutors Review Letters on Blackwell
Archdiocese Had Reported 1998 Allegations of Abuse to State's Attorney's Office
Files Not Found Last Week Cardinal Apologizes to Stokes Family; Priest Released from Hospital
By Scott Shane
May 19, 2002
Baltimore prosecutors are reviewing two letters detailing a sexual abuse allegation against the Rev. Maurice J. Blackwell that were sent to the state's attorney's office by Roman Catholic archdiocese officials in 1998 but may never have been investigated, sources said yesterday.
The letters reported allegations of sexual activity between Blackwell and a boy that began more than 30 years ago, when the boy was in fifth grade, and continued for several years, according to a person who has seen them. Blackwell would have been 19 or 20 when the alleged abuse began in the mid-1960s.
Based on the allegations, archdiocese officials removed Blackwell from his West Baltimore parish and suspended his priestly powers in October 1998. At the time, Blackwell admitted in a statement to his parishioners that he had been sexually involved with the boy, saying it was before he was ordained in 1974.
The archdiocese sent the letters in September and October 1998 to the state's attorney's office in compliance with the law on reporting child abuse. But no trace of the letters or of any follow-up materials was found last week when prosecutors searched their files for material relating to Blackwell, so it is unclear whether the allegation was investigated then. Archdiocese officials sent copies of the letters by fax to prosecutors on Friday after calling to remind them of their existence.
Blackwell, 56, was released yesterday from the Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where he was hospitalized Monday after being shot by 26-year-old Dontee D. Stokes, who alleges that the Roman Catholic priest sexually molested him for three years ending in 1993. Blackwell was shot twice in the hip and once in the hand.
He could not be reached for comment, and relatives declined to comment on his behalf.
Stokes, who is charged with attempted murder, is free on $150,000 bail and is staying with relatives in Randallstown. Family members and friends say the barber, who has no criminal record, shot the priest after confronting him outside his Reservoir Hill home and demanding an apology. They say Stokes has suffered depression and attempted suicide at least once since revealing the alleged abuse in 1993.
Also yesterday, Stokes' grandfather, Charles P. Stokes Sr., revealed that Cardinal William H. Keeler visited him Friday evening in his West Baltimore home to apologize to the family for how he handled the case in 1993. Family members have said Dontee Stokes felt betrayed when Keeler reinstated Blackwell as pastor of St. Edward in West Baltimore after prosecutors declined to press charges.
"I grilled him, and he grilled me," said Charles Stokes, who is still a devout Catholic although many family members left the church after the alleged abuse. "He said he wanted to apologize to my family."
Keeler offered an apology to Dontee Stokes' mother, Tamara Stokes, in a telephone conversation yesterday, Charles Stokes said. Arrangements are being made for the cardinal to meet with Dontee Stokes, he said.
Charles Stokes said Keeler showed him a letter that the archdiocese wrote to Tamara Stokes in 1993 offering to pay any medical or psychiatric bills Dontee Stokes might incur as a result of the alleged abuse. He said his daughter, who has insisted that no help was offered, told him she never received the letter.
Joanne Lynch Suder, a lawyer for the family, expressed gratitude for Keeler's outreach.
"I'm very appreciative of Cardinal Keeler's new approach to this tragedy," she said. "Hopefully we can work together to make sure that Dontee Stokes is seen as a victim, which he is, and not a criminal."
Keeler's spokesman, Raymond P. Kempisty, declined to comment about the visit or phone call.
Keeler wrote in an opinion piece for The Sun on Friday that he would not reinstate Blackwell if he had to make the same decision again. In a service the same day at the Basilica of the Assumption, the cardinal again apologized "to all who have been victims, and in a very special way to Mr. Stokes." But Tamara Stokes said afterward that the apology was inadequate and should have been made in person or on the telephone.
The 1998 letters from the archdiocese recounting a separate abuse allegation against Blackwell were marked "Personal and Confidential" and addressed to Emanuel Brown, then the head of the sex crimes unit of the Baltimore state's attorney's office. Brown was appointed a District Court judge in November 1998, just weeks after the letters were sent.
Brown said in an interview last night that he does not remember seeing those specific letters.
"I received a number of letters from the archdiocese regarding allegations against priests," Brown said. "My practice was to forward such allegations to the Police Department for investigation. But I don't have any independent recollection of such a letter."
Margaret T. Burns, a spokeswoman for Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy, confirmed that the office is trying to find out what became of the letters and whether any investigation was conducted.
"It is unclear what may have happened," Burns said. "However, we are now aware through contact with the archdiocese that the allegations were reported in 1998."
It is possible, she said, that police contacted the alleged victim in 1998 and that he did not want to pursue charges. But if he was not contacted then, she said, he will be now.
"If our investigation reveals that there's a need to contact the victim in this case and investigate further, our office will proceed," she said. "We investigate all allegations of child abuse."
If the alleged sexual offenses involve a felony, they could become the subject of a criminal investigation and prosecution because Maryland has no statute of limitations on felonies, Burns said.
But she said the offenses would have to be deemed felonies under the law at the time they were committed, and the law on sexual child abuse has changed since the 1960s.
The full contents of the letters could not be learned yesterday.
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