Suspended priest Maurice J. Blackwell, who was shot and wounded in May by a former parishioner who says Blackwell sexually abused him, invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege yesterday and declined to testify in the man's trial on attempted murder charges in Baltimore.
Dontee Stokes, 26, is one of four men who have told the state's attorney's office that they were sexually abused by Blackwell. Stokes shot and wounded the priest on a Baltimore street May 13. His trial on attempted murder, assault and handgun charges opened in Baltimore Circuit Court on Tuesday.
As Blackwell, leaning on a cane and with his left arm in a cast, limped to the witness stand to testify for the prosecution, Stokes stared straight ahead, looking only for an instant at the man he once called his mentor and friend.
Citing his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination, Blackwell refused to answer any questions "on advice of counsel." Assistant State's Attorney Sylvester Cox then asked that Circuit Court Judge John N. Prevas allow him to question Blackwell only about the events surrounding the shooting.
But defense attorney Warren A. Brown said that if Cox were allowed to question Blackwell about May 13, Brown on cross-examination would raise the 1993 sexual abuse allegations, which are under criminal investigation by the state's attorney's office. Prevas denied Cox's request, stating that it would leave Blackwell open to self-incrimination.
The priest's much-anticipated appearance was the first face-to-face encounter between Stokes and Blackwell since their fateful meeting on Reservoir Street in Baltimore in the early evening of May 13.
Yesterday, jurors heard from witnesses who described Stokes's behavior in the chaotic aftermath of the shooting.
"I heard three gunshots," said Anthony Workman, a city employee who was chatting with Blackwell in the street when Stokes drove up. "Mr. Stokes used profanity and pulled off really fast. . . . I observed Mr. Blackwell on the ground. There was blood coming from his hand. A big hole in his hand."
Stokes then went to find his fiancee, Tiffani Taft, at the hospital where she worked as a nurse's assistant. Taft told the jury that Stokes appeared upset.
"He told me he did it," Taft said. "He said, 'I felt like I was outside of my body. . . . I shot Maurice.' "
Later that evening, a disoriented Stokes drifted into the middle of a prayer service at Gillis Memorial Christian Community Church, witnesses said.
Stokes pulled aside the guest preacher, R. Lee Johnson, and said he needed to talk privately, Johnson testified. Stokes said he needed to confess and turn himself in to police, Johnson said.
"He told me he had shot a priest. He did say Father Blackwell," Johnson recalled. Johnson then drove with Stokes to a police station in Northwest Baltimore, where Stokes turned himself in.
Blackwell, 56, had been a rising star in Baltimore's African American Catholic community. When he was ordained in 1974, he was only the second African American priest in the history of the Archdiocese of Baltimore. He was named the head of St. Edward Catholic Church five years later. But his career was sidetracked by sexual abuse allegations, first from Stokes and then from a man who said he had a long-term sexual relationship with Blackwell in the 1960s.
Blackwell had long known members of the large Stokes family, who were active in Catholic church affairs in West Baltimore. He dined frequently in their homes, presided over family weddings and baptized Stokes as an infant.
Stokes has told prosecutors that Blackwell first began molesting him when he was 14, in the rectory of St. Edward after Bible study meetings. The alleged molestations continued for three years.
In 1993, Stokes told police and church authorities about the alleged abuse. Although Stokes passed two polygraph tests, the state's attorney did not file criminal charges, citing lack of evidence. Cardinal William H. Keeler allowed Blackwell to return to his parish after a three-month evaluation in a Connecticut mental health clinic. Keeler has since said he regrets that decision.
Blackwell was suspended from his priestly duties in 1998 after he admitted having sex with another teenager. He was not allowed to perform Mass, but he still drove around his Baltimore neighborhood in a Toyota SUV with the vanity tag PRIEST, a truck later splintered by Stokes's bullets.