Jailed mother's letters discuss son's life

January 20, 1995|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,Sun Staff Writer

"Dear Mrs. Lorraine . . . I recently talked to my aunt from South Carolina, Maurice weighs 30 lbs. Also doing fine, everytime I get finish talking to them I cry, because I am not there with him. I am very upset and angry because I was forced to make a difficult decision, but it was the right thing to do, he is doing very good where he's living now."

The letter is from Jacqueline Louise Bouknight, the woman imprisoned in Baltimore for nearly seven years for refusing to tell authorities of her child's whereabouts. The note, one of several messages kept secret for years, is a personal declaration of why Ms. Bouknight remains behind bars -- a belief that she must protect her boy, Maurice.

She wrote the words in January 1989 -- almost a year and a half after she purportedly gave Maurice, a child she had previously abused, to another woman to avoid returning him to foster care.

Today, Ms. Bouknight will be in Baltimore City juvenile court as lawyers argue over whether to set her free.

At issue is how much Ms. Bouknight, now 28, knows of her son's whereabouts. Maurice, who would now be 8, still is missing.

Some authorities presume him dead at his mother's hands, but a growing group of investigators and interested parties believe the boy is alive.

Over several years, Ms. Bouknight wrote letters to Florence Dean, mother of Maurice's father, Terrance Miles, occasionally talking of Maurice and lamenting the death of his father in a drug-related shooting in March 1988.

She called Mrs. Dean, who lived in Baltimore at the time, "Mrs. Lorraine."

The letters, long hidden by the confidentiality of the juvenile court file, were made available this week after Judge David B. Mitchell granted a motion by The Sun to open some court papers, as well as the hearing that continues today.

The messages reflect the ups and downs of a woman whose incarceration has been been one of the longest in the country for civil contempt. In 1990, the U.S. Supreme Court said she could not use the Fifth Amendment to avoid the contempt order.

Ms. Bouknight has not responded to repeated requests for interviews over the past few months.

Mitchell Y. Mirviss, who represents Maurice in the hearing, has pointed in court papers to the letters as evidence that Ms. Bouknight believed that the child was alive but may not be able to tell authorities much more than she already has about her son's location.

For example, in a 1992 letter Ms. Bouknight indicated that she hoped a computer enhancement could be created of the picture of Maurice to show what he might have looked like after several years, Mr. Mirviss wrote.

That would suggest that she was searching for him herself.

Whether the letters reflect reality is still the paramount question.

A psychological evaluation done during the early years of Ms. Bouknight's incarceration suggested that she needed extensive

therapy and that she may have been capable of convincing herself that her child is alive -- even if he is not -- because previously she had not been willing to admit abusing him.

That scenario could color an interpretation of not only her letters, but the results of a lie-detector test administered at the request of Ms. Bouknight's attorney, M. Cristina Gutierrez, in 1992.

The test showed that Ms. Bouknight was not being deceptive when she said she had not harmed her son after February 1988; that she had placed him in the care of a woman named "Rachael"; and that she was not positive of his current address.

"I believe her to be in touch with reality. She's been an amazingly strong woman," Ms. Gutierrez said.

The evaluation recommended that dealing with Ms. Bouknight would take "patience," and that only with long-term psychological counseling and contact with people she could trust would reliable information about Maurice result.

Ms. Bouknight's history, according to social-service records and other sources, includes suspected child abuse in both her natural home and a foster home. She was in 11 different foster-care placements over 13 years, and periodically sent to hospitals for psychiatric help after becoming unmanageable.

The letters from jail reflect a depression, and distrust of police.

In January 1989, Ms. Bouknight wrote to Mrs. Dean:

'No one understood why I had to send Maurice down South Carolina. Homicide and no prosecutor is going to protect my son but me. I'd stay in jail before I jeopardize my son life please try and understand."

In February of that year, she wrote that she wished she could bring Terrance Miles back to life "like God can. . . . I thank God each day for giving the strength to live for our son."

Several months later, she wrote that she had tried to take her life in jail.

Court records indicate that Ms. Bouknight developed a "trusting relationship" with Baltimore police Detective Tyrone S. Francis, one of the investigators on her case from the beginning.

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