Bouknight is released after seven years in jail Angry judge orders mother not to have contact with her son

November 01, 1995|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

Jacqueline L. Bouknight finally won release from jail yesterday after spending more than seven years there for civil contempt, still defying a judge's pleas to provide the whereabouts of her son, Maurice, after an emotional hearing in which attorneys alternately called her heroine and villain.

Reading a 13-page opinion about the historic case, Baltimore Circuit Judge David B. Mitchell railed against the 29-year-old mother, saying that he found she had abused her child and could still be a danger to him.

He barred Ms. Bouknight from having any contact, physical or otherwise, with her son unless a psychological evaluation or some other evidence comes forth to show she is a fit parent.

Her attorney said she would urge Ms. Bouknight to contest that order.

Ms. Bouknight walked out of the Baltimore City Detention Center with a shy smile at about 8 o'clock last night, saying only "Thank you," to a television reporter who offered congratulations.

Her attorney, M. Cristina Gutierrez, drove her to an undisclosed location, taking along three trash bags full of property accumulated during her years in jail.

In asking for her release "with regret," Maryland Deputy Attorney General Ralph S. Tyler III said, "Ms. Bouknight terrorized this child. Ms. Bouknight is not Joan of Arc. Ms. Bouknight is no one's role model. Ms. Bouknight is not Mother of the Year."

But Michael Millemann, one of her lawyers, compared her civil disobedience, which he said was out of "commitment to her son," to the principles championed by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

"To paraphrase a recent event in our history: She is not him," Judge Mitchell replied to that comparison.

"There is simply nothing to indicate Maurice is alive. We earnestly hope Maurice is alive. Our fear is that he is dead."

As for Ms. Bouknight, she was as silent during yesterday's two-hour hearing as she has been for much of her long time

behind bars.

When the judge announced she could not contact Maurice, Ms. Bouknight exhaled sharply and leaned forward, shaking her head. She was returned to the Baltimore City Detention Center after the hearing for processing.

John Brown, a former foster father of Ms. Bouknight with whom she also lived as an adult, said he had told Ms. Bouknight she could live with him until she finds a place of her own.

"I hope she'll make it. She should make it," Mr. Brown said. "She's excited about coming out. One thing I tell her is that she should change her friends," he said, referring to Ms. Bouknight's association with drug users in the past.

Maurice's father, Terrance Miles, was killed in a drug-related shooting in 1988.

The historic case, which went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court five years ago, pitted the right of a child to be protected against his mother's constitutional rights.

Judge Mitchell jailed Ms. Bouknight for contempt April 28, 1988, after a social worker reported Maurice had not been seen for months and appeared to be missing.

Maurice had been in foster care for several months in 1987 after sustaining bone fractures that social workers suspected came from abuse. Ms. Bouknight had won him back on the condition that she would produce the boy for social workers at any time.

But Ms. Bouknight did not produce Maurice, and said he was with relatives. When that didn't check out, she refused to say anything more for a time. Lately, she has said Maurice was with a friend named "Rachael Anderson," and that she was hiding him to keep him from the foster care system in which she grew up.

Ms. Bouknight's incarceration has been one of the longest in the country for civil contempt. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1990 that she could not use her Fifth Amendment right against compelled self-incrimination to avoid the contempt order.

But her attorneys continued to assert that right even after the Supreme Court decision, advising her not to answer any of the court's questions at a number of subsequent hearings, according to Mitchell Y. Mirviss, a court-appointed attorney for Maurice.

He charged yesterday that it was Ms. Bouknight and her lawyers that kept her behind bars for so long, and criticized the attorneys for not filing petitions of habeas corpus or pursuing other available means to end the stalemate earlier.

At one point, he addressed Ms. Bouknight directly, prompting strenuous objections from her attorneys.

"Jackie, it's a tragedy that you have let this thing go on for seven years," Mr. Mirviss said. "You should know we tried everything possible to end this case earlier."

Ms. Gutierrez called those charges "grandstanding" and said her client "does not consent to the truth of what they allege."

"What she's done, she's done on behalf of her child. I know of no parent who has proved the love of her child by staying in jail for 7 1/2 years," Mr. Millemann said.

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