from Albatross - Thursday, February 17, 2005
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Defrocked priest guilty of molesting boy who later shot him
BALTIMORE, Maryland (AP) -- A defrocked priest was found guilty Thursday of molesting a former altar boy who shot and wounded him on a city street a decade later.
Jurors found that Maurice Blackwell, 58, who did not testify, molested Dontee Stokes, 29, when Blackwell was pastor of St. Edward, a Roman Catholic church in West Baltimore.
The jury convicted Blackwell of three of four counts, finding he abused Stokes in 1990, 1991 and 1992 but acquitting him of a charge relating to an alleged incident in 1989, when Stokes was 13.
Sentencing was scheduled for April 15. He could face up to 45 years in prison.
After the verdict, Stokes said he felt vindicated.
"Mr. Blackwell was at no point on trial. It was all about me," he said. "The world can see that I'm not a perfect person, but I stand here right and he stands wrong."
Stokes had served home detention on a gun charge related to the shooting.
Blackwell declined to comment. Defense attorney Kenneth Ravenell said he felt jurors reached their decision on evidence they should not have heard, referring to detectives' references to "other victims," which the judge ordered stricken from the record.
"It's impossible for people to wipe clear what they've already heard," Ravenell said. He said he planned to seek a retrial and if that failed, to appeal that decision.
On Wednesday, the jurors deliberated five hours without reaching a verdict, sending a note to the judge saying they were unable to agree and asking how to proceed.
Judge Stuart Berger read them standardized instructions Thursday morning on the importance of a unanimous verdict. They then deliberated about a half-hour more before reaching their verdicts.
In closing arguments Wednesday, the prosecution called Stokes a vulnerable victim who was preyed upon by a trusted father figure. But Ravenell portrayed Stokes as a disturbed young man who made up the allegations to deal with a sexual identity crisis.
"There was absolutely no credibility to anything Dontee Stokes has told you," Ravenell said.
Stokes admitted in court that he has had trouble distinguishing between fantasy and reality at times, but firmly maintained he was sexually abused by Blackwell.
Prosecutor Jo Anne Stanton called the allegations that Stokes was concealing homosexual tendencies a "smoke screen."
Stokes had 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.
In May 2002, in the midst of the national scandal involving Catholic priests, Stokes shot Blackwell three times. In the aftermath, Baltimore prosecutors reviewed Stokes' old allegations and charged Blackwell with abuse.
Stokes, who testified he had an "out-of-body experience" at the time of the shooting, was acquitted of attempted murder in December 2002 but was convicted on gun charges. He served 18 months on home detention.
Blackwell was stripped of his church authority after acknowledging he had a sexual relationship with a teenage boy in the early 1970s. The Vatican defrocked him in October.