Defense attorneys and prosecutors struck a deal yesterday that would likely mean no jail time for a Baltimore man acquitted of attempted murder charges after shooting a Roman Catholic priest.
Under an agreement reached by attorneys, Baltimore Circuit Judge John N. Prevas will sentence Dontee D. Stokes, 26, to no more than three years in prison and three years' probation on handgun-possession charges. The case centers on a May 13 incident in which Stokes confronted and shot the priest, Maurice J. Blackwell, whom he has accused of sexually molesting him.
Stokes would likely serve no more than 18 months of the sentence, remaining in home detention, lawyers said. His attorney, Warren A. Brown, said he will ask the judge at Stokes's sentencing Feb. 14 to release his client from home monitoring at that point.
"Dontee Stokes will not spend one day in jail henceforth," said a jubilant Brown, standing with Stokes and his family members on the courthouse steps after yesterday's court proceedings.
"I feel like this is a new day," Stokes said.
Stokes's relatives hugged members of the jury that had voted to acquit him of attempted murder and assault -- charges carrying a penalty of life imprisonment. Jury forewoman Patricia McCoy, 42, wiped away tears after being embraced by Stokes's aunts.
Jurors, recounting their eight hours of deliberations, said yesterday that they agreed quickly that Stokes should be acquitted of the most serious charge he faced: attempted murder, said alternate juror Catherine Robinson, 39.
But a few panel members questioned whether he was guilty of assault. Jurors asked to listen again to a tape of the judge's instructions on what constitutes assault. And they reviewed the videotaped testimony of a psychiatrist who testified that Stokes was not criminally responsible for his actions.
"We had some disagreements on some counts, but I do feel the jury was of one mind," said alternate Carlton Summers, 61, who sat through the deliberations. ". . . The jury did kind of feel Stokes was a victim of this."
Ultimately, even though Stokes admitted on the stand that he shot Blackwell, the panel found him guilty of only two handgun-possession charges and violation of a city firearms ordinance. The jury also sent a note to the judge asking, "If we find the defendant guilty of any counts, can we recommend leniency?"
"It was very emotional," said juror Vanessa Holley, 41, a food service manager. "I think he's a very nice young man and has been through enough."
Jurors said they were swayed by Brown's argument that Stokes had suffered a temporary mental breakdown at the time of the shooting, brought on by years of trauma surrounding the abuse and frustration that church and law enforcement officials had done nothing when Stokes first reported in 1993 that Blackwell had abused him.
Cardinal William H. Keeler, archbishop of Baltimore, returned Blackwell to his parish three months after Stokes's initial allegations but later suspended the priest after an incident with another teenager. Keeler says he now believes Stokes's allegations.
Stokes "has been suffering from 1993," Robinson said. "The state's attorney knew about it since 1993, and they did nothing. Cardinal Keeler knew about it, and he did nothing. It was detrimental to this young man's life."
The six-day trial included apologies from Keeler, accusations that the church had abandoned Stokes and silence from Blackwell, who invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.
Stokes said the "passion of my family" helped him through his seven-month ordeal. Stokes comes from a large, close-knit family -- he has 48 cousins and 11 maternal aunts and uncles -- long active in Catholic affairs.
Relatives have vociferously supported the quiet young barber, though some left the Catholic Church in disgust after they were shunned by Blackwell's supporters in St. Edward Church.
Dontee Stokes isn't one of them.
"I've never left the Catholic Church," Stokes said. "I was very confident God would bring me to this point."