Jacqueline L. Bouknight says she will consider helping find her missing son if a judge provides better assurances that he will not go into Maryland's foster care system.
A 1992 court order, which said the boy would not return to the city Department of Social Services if he was found to be living in a safe place, isn't good enough, even though she signed it at the time, she said yesterday.
"It's a paper. It's lies," Ms. Bouknight said of that order, finalized after a year of negotiations with attorneys and a judge who demand to know the whereabouts of the boy, Maurice.
During more than an hour on the stand before Baltimore City juvenile court Judge David B. Mitchell, Ms. Bouknight said she would work with the court to hammer out a new agreement. She also said she would wear a home-monitoring ankle bracelet at the home of a former foster father, John Brown, as an alternative to staying in jail.
But she still appeared skeptical of authorities -- she said she no longer trusts a Baltimore police detective whom she previously had been willing to give information.
Judge Mitchell ordered Ms. Bouknight, 28, held at the Baltimore City Detention Center April 28, 1988, for refusing to produce her son, whom she had abused. She has been there ever since.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1990 that Ms. Bouknight could not use the Fifth Amendment to avoid contempt and jail. But she has said little since then about where her son, who would now be 8, could be.
Some authorities still presume him dead at Ms. Bouknight's hands. But Ms. Bouknight reaffirmed yesterday, during a hearing on motions to set her free, that she had given the boy to a friend named "Rachael" whom she met while in foster care herself.
Though she answered questions with mostly "yes" and "no," her demeanor on the stand contrasted sharply with an appearance Tuesday, when she refused even to swear to tell the truth before the court and said nothing when questioned. At times yesterday, Ms. Bouknight cradled a computer-enhanced image of Maurice that police are using to find him.
The judge and attorneys, long accustomed to roller-coaster stops and starts in the unusual and frustrating case, viewed the latest breakthrough with caution.
"We would like to know where we're going with that," Judge Mitchell said after Ms. Bouknight indicated she was willing to work out new conditions for finding the boy.
"Judge, we all would," replied Ms. Bouknight's lawyer, M. Cristina Gutierrez.
Attorneys for Ms. Bouknight, Maurice and the city Department of Social Services met with the judge privately for about half an hour, and agreed to continue the hearing today.
Ms. Bouknight said she didn't trust the 1992 "protocol," a court order that would keep the city Department of Social Services from taking Maurice from his current home as long as it is safe and appropriate, and as long as she helped locate the child.
She also said she no longer trusted Detective Tyrone S. Francis, to whom she had been willing to talk a few months ago in an effort to resolve the stalemate.
Ms. Bouknight said she did not want Deputy Attorney General Ralph S. Tyler III, who represents the city Department of Social Services, to participate in the new negotiations. She would not answer questions he asked her on the stand yesterday.
But she did respond to Ms. Gutierrez and to Mitchell Y. Mirviss, a court-appointed attorney for her son, who again pulled a chair next to the witness stand and pleaded with her to trust him.
Mr. Mirviss said he knew Ms. Bouknight would want to see her son again, and that she needed assistance to do so.
"If you get out today, or tomorrow, or next month, how are you going to find Maurice?" he asked.
"I will," Ms. Bouknight replied.