A July 7 Metro article incorrectly said that the Roman Catholic Church has never apologized to Baltimore resident Dontee Stokes for sexual abuse allegedly inflicted on him by a priest. Cardinal William H. Keeler has apologized to Stokes. (Published 7/13/2005)
A former altar boy who in 2002 shot a Catholic priest he said had molested him years earlier told reporters yesterday that he is disappointed prosecutors in Baltimore have decided not to pursue sexual abuse charges.
The state's attorney's office announced Saturday that it would not retry the defrocked priest, Maurice J. Blackwell, 58. Blackwell was convicted in February of three counts of abusing the former altar boy, Dontee Stokes, but a judge threw out the convictions two months later, saying prosecution witnesses should not have testified about other alleged victims.
Yesterday, Stokes, now 29, rejected the reasons prosecutors offered for not retrying Blackwell as "poor excuses," saying he believed the former cleric was spared a second trial because of political ties.
"It sends a message to all victims of sexual abuse that there's really no safe haven in the system," said Stokes, speaking to reporters at the office of lawyer Warren Brown, who defended him against charges connected to the shooting.
Brown said he was "a little disgusted" with the reasons prosecutors offered for their decision -- among them that, under sentencing guidelines, Blackwell might have avoided prison even if convicted at a new trial.
"The system was willing to sacrifice a little black boy to save a prominent black priest," Brown said. "Never, ever, ever have we heard that the state will not prosecute a case because if the person is convicted a judge isn't going to do anything anyway.''
Brown said it would be "naive" to think Blackwell did not benefit from what he called well-known political connections. Pressed for details, Brown cited Blackwell's ties to state Del. Nathaniel T. Oaks (D-Baltimore), although he acknowledged having no proof that the relationship affected the case.
In an interview late yesterday, Oaks said he considers Blackwell a close friend, but he denied trying to influence the case. Oaks, who said he believes justice would not be served by another trial, said he met with State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy several months ago on an unrelated matter but could not recall whether the Blackwell trial came up.
Margaret T. Burns, a spokeswoman for Jessamy, disputed Stokes's assertions. Burns said that Stokes's testimony was largely uncorroborated by other evidence and that prosecutors, though still convinced Stokes was abused by his priest, considered another conviction of Blackwell unlikely.
Other circumstances contributed to the decision, Burns said. "You have a priest who's accused of sexual child abuse who's shot and suffers lifelong debilitating injuries," she said. "And Dontee Stokes, even though he admitted to the shooting, a jury found him not guilty of attempted murder."
The case that ended with Saturday's announcement drew wide attention when Stokes shot Blackwell in May 2002, at the height of the church's national sex abuse scandal.
Stokes said at the time that Blackwell had abused him repeatedly between 1989 and 1992. Stokes was acquitted of attempted murder in the shooting but convicted of gun violations. The conviction was overturned, but prosecutors pressed the matter. Stokes pleaded guilty and was sentenced to time served of 18 months.
Stokes said yesterday that he has "already personally forgiven" Blackwell. The church, though it paid for counseling for a time, has not apologized and has offered no compensation for the abuse he suffered, Stokes said.
Maurice J. Blackwell will not be retried
in the case.