- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 19, 2002

BALTIMORE The acquittal of a man who admitted shooting a priest who reportedly molested him has sharply divided public opinion on whether justice was served.
The verdict has been a hot topic on local radio with residents calling in to express strong views both in favor and in opposition to the acquittal Monday of Dontee Stokes.
"It generated a lot of passion," said Chip Franklin, a talk-show host on WBAL-AM, who has discussed the topic for two days.
Mr. Franklin said he has received more than 400 e-mails on the subject and many phone calls, including one from Mr. Stokes' mother, Tamara.
Mayor Martin O'Malley said the case has caused "a lot of pain and a lot of suffering."
"I'm not sure how they arrived at that verdict, but then again, I wasn't the person doing my duty and sitting there in the courtroom," the mayor said. "I think it's sad all around."
"The jury has spoken," State's Attorney Patricia Jessamy said yesterday, a day after a deal was reached with prosecutors that will keep Mr. Stokes, 26, out of prison on lesser handgun violations. "I believe that now is the time for the community to begin to heal itself."
Some Baltimore residents found Monday's verdict hard to accept.
"It's completely ridiculous," said Jennifer Meeks, 28, while walking by the city's Inner Harbor. "It was a joke. How could you acquit somebody who blatantly shot a priest over just an accusation that he molested him?"
Others praised the verdict, saying the jury was right to take into account why Mr. Stokes snapped while confronting the Rev. Maurice Blackwell in front of the priest's house May 13.
"There is a mark on his record," said Tramaine Smith, 24, referring to Mr. Stokes. "But I think a lot of times they don't take into consideration what's happened to the person and the state of mind that they were in."
Jurors, speaking after the verdict, said Mr. Stokes was a victim who has suffered enough and didn't need a prison sentence.
Mr. Stokes could have received a maximum life sentence on attempted murder and other charges. He was convicted only of minor handgun charges.
Under an agreement reached Tuesday, Mr. Stokes would serve a maximum of 11 months under house arrest, with 18 additional months suspended while he is on probation for three years. Circuit Judge John Prevas will make a final ruling on the proposed sentence after a hearing that begins Feb. 14.
Kelly Rooks, 32, said the punishment was too lenient for a man who shot someone three times with a .357-caliber handgun, causing permanent injury to the 56-year-old priest, who now walks with a cane: "In-house jail is not good enough. What would make him not do it again?"
Anita Megginson, 28, said she was glad Mr. Stokes didn't get prison time, even though she thought he should have been convicted of attempted murder.
"I think the jurors did it more on emotion than on the actual case," she said, referring to the jury's deliberations.
Jodie D'Adamo, 49, said she sympathized with Mr. Stokes, but worried about the message the jury may have sent to people who have been wronged.
"It just leaves us open as a society to, you know, a Wild West mentality in terms of how you resolve disputes and differences and injustices," Miss D'Adamo said.
Lynn Johnson, 35, said she was glad Mr. Stokes wasn't going to jail.
"I think the Catholic Church should have handled it a long time ago," she said, referring to the sex-abuse accusations against Father Blackwell.
Mr. Stokes, a former altar boy, first made the accusations against Father Blackwell in 1993, but authorities didn't press charges for lack of evidence.
His trial last week included testimony from Cardinal William Keeler. Father Blackwell was called to the stand but refused to testify, citing his Fifth Amendment rights.
The state's attorney's office is wrapping up another investigation into Mr. Stokes' original charges of abuse, but no charges have been filed.

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