- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 17, 2002

BALTIMORE A jury acquitted Dontee Stokes yesterday of attempted murder in the shooting of the priest Mr. Stokes says abused him a decade ago.
Mr. Stokes was convicted on three misdemeanor handgun charges for the May attack on the Rev. Maurice Blackwell, who was wounded in the left hand and the left hip.
"God is with me," Mr. Stokes said. "I thank God for everything he's done; all the glory goes to God."
The jury found Mr. Stokes not guilty of five other charges, including assault, reckless endangerment and using a handgun to commit a felony. The latter charge was the only one he faced that carried a mandatory minimum sentence.
As the verdict was announced, some of Mr. Stokes' relatives gave audible sighs of relief, and Mr. Stokes hugged a family member.
His mother, Tamara Stokes, said that the verdict would help other victims of abuse by clergy.
"For the victims coming forward, there is some light," she said. "Prosecutors should stop shoving [accusations] under the rug."
During the trial, defense attorney Warren Brown said that Mr. Stokes was pushed over the edge by the abuse committed when he was a teenage altar boy and by the priest's refusal to apologize.
Mr. Brown said his client shouldn't be held criminally responsible for the shooting because he suffered from a mental disorder as a result of the abuse.
Prosecutor Sylvester Cox told jurors that Mr. Stokes' abuse accusations didn't justify the attack.
During deliberations, jurors reviewed a videotape of the testimony of Dr. Michael Spodak, a forensic psychiatrist who said on the stand last week that Mr. Stokes suffered from a mental disorder when he shot Father Blackwell. Dr. Spodak said that Mr. Stokes suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder because of the abuse.
Mr. Stokes testified that he didn't intend to harm Father Blackwell when he confronted him in front of the priest's house about the abuse. But he said that when Father Blackwell brushed him off, memories of the abuse flooded back. Mr. Stokes said his vision flickered and he had the sensation "that his soul was trying to get a hold of his body" before he shot Father Blackwell.
Father Blackwell was called to the stand during the trial but invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refused to answer questions.
Cardinal William Keeler told jurors Thursday that he regretted reinstating Father Blackwell. Cardinal Keeler, who was the bishop at the time of the 1993 accusations, said that he decided to send the priest back to St. Edward Roman Catholic Church under strict restrictions after he spent three months undergoing psychiatric evaluation.
The city State's Attorney's Office is investigating Mr. Stokes' accusations. No charges have been filed against the priest.
The jury will reconvene Tuesday to decide if Mr. Stokes is criminally responsible for the three weapons convictions. Attorneys will make opening statements and psychiatrists for both sides will testify.
"He was found not guilty of anything that would send him jail," Mr. Brown said. "We're going to come back tomorrow and get rid of this case and let Dontee get on with his life."
Mr. Stokes faces a maximum penalty of three years in prison on two of the handgun convictions and 90 days for the third, discharging a firearm in a public place.
When Mr. Stokes came out of the courthouse after the verdict, his supporters began chanting, "God is good all the time," and "Save the children."
Asked if he had a message for Father Blackwell, he said: "I have no message for Maurice Blackwell; I'll pray for Maurice Blackwell."

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