- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 17, 2005

BALTIMORE — A jury convicted a defrocked priest yesterday of sexually molesting a former altar boy he had baptized as an infant and who later shot the cleric after a confrontation on a city street.

Dontee Stokes said Maurice Blackwell, 58, began molesting him when he was 13 and that the abuse continued until he was 17. In often graphic testimony, Mr. Stokes, 29, described during the trial how he was “in disbelief” when pats on the back from the man he regarded as a father figure eventually led to the former Roman Catholic pastor of St. Edward sodomizing him.

Sentencing is scheduled for April 15. Blackwell faces up to 45 years in prison. He remains free until his sentencing.

Deliberating for nearly six hours over two days, the jury convicted Blackwell of three of four counts of child sexual abuse, covering 1990, 1991 and 1992, but acquitted him of the charge relating to Mr. Stokes’ accusation of abuse in 1989.

After the verdict, Mr. Stokes stood among about two dozen friends, family members and supporters and told reporters that he felt vindicated after having his credibility attacked by Blackwell’s attorney during the weeklong trial.

“I definitely was on trial. Mr. Blackwell was at no point on trial. It was all about me,” Mr. Stokes, a barber in Baltimore, said. “The world can see that I’m not a perfect person, but I stand here right and he stands wrong.”

Blackwell, who uses a cane because of injuries from the shooting, declined to comment as he left the courtroom with family and friends. Defense attorney Kenneth Ravenell said he planned to seek a retrial, and if that fails, would appeal the decision.

Mr. Ravenell said he thought jurors based their decision on evidence they should not have heard, referring to detectives’ repeated references to “other victims” during testimony. The judge ordered testimony about other victims stricken from the record, but Mr. Ravenell said, “It’s impossible for people to wipe clear what they’ve already heard.”

Earlier in the trial, Lt. Frederick Roussey, who first investigated sexual abuse accusations against Blackwell, testified that he had found evidence that others also had been victimized. His testimony drew an objection from Mr. Ravenell, and Judge Berger ordered testimony about other purported victims stricken from the record.

Prosecutors initially declined to charge Blackwell when Mr. Stokes first raised the accusations a decade ago. The once-popular and highly respected priest was stripped of his church authority after he acknowledged having a sexual relationship with a teenage boy in the early 1970s. The Vatican defrocked him in October.

Robert Martin, 50, said he was the 14-year-old high school student Blackwell abused when the cleric was a seminary student in the 1970s. Mr. Martin flew to Baltimore from his home in Baton Rouge, La., to support Mr. Stokes. “It’s a great day. I wanted to see justice done, and it has been,” Mr. Martin said, tears welling up, after the verdict.

Warren Brown, who defended Mr. Stokes during his trial on charges of attempted murder, stood by Mr. Stokes’ side on the courthouse steps and praised his courage.

“Dontee stood in the gap for all those who were afraid to come forward,” Mr. Brown said. “Dontee stood for all the other victims.”

The Archdiocese of Baltimore said Blackwell’s convictions “were independent of the processes and standards employed by the Catholic Church, which revoked his faculties to function as a priest several years ago and dismissed him from the clerical state in 2004.”

Archdiocese spokesman Sean Caine declined to comment further.

The Stokes case came to light in the midst of a national scandal over sexual abuses involving Catholic priests. Mr. Stokes confronted Blackwell and demanded an apology. Mr. Stokes shot him three times, in the left hip and hand, when Blackwell did not respond.

Mr. Stokes was acquitted of attempted murder in December 2002 after saying he had an “out-of-body experience” but was convicted on gun charges. Jurors in that case sent Circuit Judge John Prevas a note urging leniency. Judge Prevas sentenced Stokes to 18 months on home detention.

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