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Judge Nullifies Ex-Priest's Abuse Conviction

Talk of Other Victims at Issue in Baltimore Trial

By Christian Davenport
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 9, 2005; Page B02

A Baltimore judge yesterday ordered a new trial for former Roman Catholic priest Maurice Blackwell, who was convicted in February of sexually abusing an altar boy who later shot him.

Circuit Court Judge Stuart R. Berger ruled that the victim, Dontee Stokes, and two Baltimore police investigators improperly mentioned "other victims" during their testimony, violating evidentiary rules and unfairly influencing the jury.

Maurice Blackwell arrives in court in February for his sexual abuse trial. He was convicted on three counts stemming from incidents in the 1990s. (Chris Gardner -- AP)

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During the trial, the judge ordered the jury to disregard the statements, which drew vigorous objections from Blackwell's defense. But in his ruling, Berger wrote: "Regrettably, the bell had been rung by the repeated references to other victims. . . . This Court finds it difficult -- if not impossible -- to unring that bell . . . "

Blackwell was found guilty of three counts of sexual child abuse that occurred from 1990 to 1992.

Stokes, now 29, was "a little disappointed with the judge's ruling," said his attorney Warren A. Brown. "However, he's undaunted. He's still prepared to get back on the witness stand and testify once again."

A call to Blackwell's attorney, Kenneth W. Ravenell, was not returned.

He told the Associated Press that Blackwell was pleased and that "he was always convinced that the judge would do the right thing in the end."

During the trial, Ravenell immediately objected when Baltimore police Lt. Frederick Rousey mentioned that he had talked with "other victims" while investigating Stokes's case, according to Berger's ruling, which includes partial transcripts of the trial.

Then, during a discussion at the bench, Ravenell told the judge: "I am moving for a mistrial. This witness knows what he is doing. . . . He is making every effort . . . to put things into this record that should not be here."

Berger responded that the comment was "completely outrageous" and instructed the jury, "You are not to consider it whatsoever in the course of your deliberations."

That same day, another investigator, Detective Shawn Harrison, testified about interviews with Stokes "and several other alleged victims."

Stokes was acquitted of attempted murder in 2002 after shooting Blackwell during what he called an "out-of-body experience" that he said was triggered by Blackwell's abuse during the early 1990s.

The Vatican defrocked Blackwell last year.

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