Legal fight slows hunt for child

January 23, 1995|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,Sun Staff Writer

In the middle of the case of Jacqueline Louise Bouknight sits a Baltimore City police detective with a big problem. Everybody wants him to find her missing son -- even as new roadblocks are stacked in his way.

Since Maurice disappeared nearly seven years ago, missing-persons Detective Tyrone S. Francis has seen tantalizing bits of evidence, including the mother's insistence that she sent the boy to a woman named "Rachael Anderson" who lived in the Carolinas. The mother's attorney also has provided letters said to be from "Rachael."

Now, what the detective really wants is to interview Ms. Bouknight, who has been jailed since the disappearance for refusing to tell a judge her son's whereabouts.

But, as the case reaches a crucial point, an interview has been blocked for months, while the city state's attorney's office and Ms. Bouknight's attorney battle over whether the mother first must be given so-called "Miranda" warnings. The warnings are designed to protect suspects from unknowingly giving up constitutional rights, such as the right to an attorney and the right to remain silent.

"You've got all these competing interests with all these attorneys, and [Detective Francis] is in the middle," said Col. Ronald L. Daniel, head of the Criminal Investigation Bureau.

Detective Francis' ability to interview Ms. Bouknight is key. She might provide more leads to find Maurice -- or to determine whether he is alive.

The talks also could help the detective determine whether Ms. Bouknight still knows where her child is. If, in Detective Francis' opinion, she has told all she knows, the judge in the case will be more likely to free her -- an important issue in a hearing that continues tomorrow.

Baltimore City juvenile court Judge David B. Mitchell ordered Ms. Bouknight to jail April 28, 1988, for civil contempt of court. Under the law, she can be held until she produces what the court wants -- the child -- or shows that she cannot or will not.

Detective Francis, a Baltimore police officer for more than 20 years, is among those who believe Ms. Bouknight gave Maurice away seven years ago.

Some, however, still think Maurice may have died long ago at the hands of his mother.

"It is a suspicion . . . " Assistant State's Attorney Timothy J. Doory said Friday. "We question what has been her incentive to remain silent all this time, and we find that very suspicious."

That's part of the reason Mr. Doory wants Ms. Bouknight to be read her Miranda warnings -- a list of rights given to criminal suspects before they are questioned by police.

Prosecutors believe they could still build a case if Ms. Bouknight told Detective Francis that she harmed the child. Without the Miranda warnings, any prosecution would be jeopardized. (Prosecutors also have offered to give Ms. Bouknight immunity for her statements to police -- an offer that the woman rejected through her attorney.)

But Detective Francis and the attorney, M. Cristina Gutierrez, said that starting an interview with Ms. Bouknight with such warnings could cause her to lose trust in the detective -- and to avoid giving any leads in finding Maurice.

"This is not a criminal case," said Ms. Gutierrez. "She's not creating the stalemate." Ms. Gutierrez said the onus is on police and prosecutors to charge Ms. Bouknight with a crime or let her out of jail.

A solution could come this week, when Judge Mitchell may take up a motion to appoint Detective Francis as an agent of the court.

In that role, Detective Francis would not have to read the warnings to Ms. Bouknight. A 1990 U.S. Supreme Court opinion relating to her civil contempt implied that she would have immunity for any statements made about Maurice to the court, argues Mitchell Y. Mirviss, an attorney for the boy.

Without an interview from Ms. Bouknight, Detective Francis is left with leads that are less than fresh.

The detective, who also has worked in the homicide, youth and child-abuse units, has a name that may or may not be correct for a woman who may or may not still have custody of the child. Only a computer-enhanced photograph can guess at what the boy would look like now, at age 8.

"It's like looking for a needle in a haystack," Colonel Daniel said.

Deputy Attorney General Ralph S. Tyler III, who represents the Department of Social Services in the case, did agree Friday to give the detective access to foster-care records that might shed light on "Rachael's" identity. Ms. Bouknight has told the detective she met "Rachael" while in foster care and attended school with her.

Without more to go on -- or being able to talk to Ms. Bouknight -- Detective Francis testified Friday that releasing her from jail would only make his job harder. She might go on her own mission to find Maurice and drive him further than ever from discovery, he told Judge Mitchell.

Meanwhile, as court hearings continue, attorneys for Maurice hold out the hope that "Rachael" will come forward. Stuart R. Cohen, chief of litigation for the Legal Aid Bureau, said, "We'd like Rachael Anderson, or whoever has custody of Maurice, to come forward and bring Maurice because we don't want to see Jackie Bouknight in jail any longer."

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