Priest attack suspect out on bail

Man accused of shooting cleric he says fondled him must wear monitor device

Suspect's family embraces him

May 18, 2002|By Sarah Koenig | Sarah Koenig,SUN STAFF

Dontee D. Stokes, the man charged with the shooting Monday of a priest he says fondled him, was freed yesterday evening from the city jail and whisked into the arms of his relatives.

Surrounded by a phalanx of family and corrections officers, Stokes, 26, refused to talk to reporters awaiting him outside the Baltimore City Detention Center. But just before he was driven away, he said, "I'm very glad this is out in the open."

Accompanying her nephew, Thomasine Wells said the case had opened old wounds for the family.

"What my nephew did was wrong. It was wrong. However, what Father Blackwell did to my nephew was wrong," she said. "I wish Father Blackwell would confess, just air it out and get on with it."

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's editions misspelled the last name of Sister John Francis Schilling, principal of St. Frances Academy.
The Sun regrets the errors.

Stokes' release came as a Baltimore attorney said a possible second victim of abuse by the Rev. Maurice Blackwell could come forward next week.

Joanne L. Suder said her firm, which is representing Stokes, had interviewed two other people who claimed to have been abused by Blackwell and had found one person's account credible. Suder would not identify the man, but said he is an adult who now lives outside Maryland.

"All I can say is it's a Catholic victim, and he wants to assist in allowing the truth to come out," Suder said.

Earlier this week, Baltimore District Judge H. Gary Bass had ordered a psychological evaluation of Stokes to determine whether he was suicidal or violent. Two psychiatrists - one hired by the defense and one who works for the court - reported yesterday that he was neither a risk to himself nor to anyone else.

Other witnesses, including a nun in whom Stokes confided about the alleged abuse he says he suffered from 1990 to 1993, testified that he was a gentle, reasonable person whose actions Monday evening seemed to be an aberration of character.

Nevertheless, Bass said he was worried about the safety of Blackwell, 56, who was shot three times and is in fair condition at Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

"He exploded once before," Bass said of Stokes. "There has to be some check."

Bass released him on $150,000 unsecured bail on the condition that he be held on home detention somewhere other than his Reservoir Hill neighborhood, where the Blackwell family also lives. City prosecutor Sylvester Cox told the court that Blackwell's elderly mother was scared. "She has had people approach her and say she should be ashamed of herself," he said.

Under the terms of unsecured bail, the Stokes family does not have to pay anything unless Dontee Stokes fails to show up for his next court appearance, set for June 11.

In addition, he will have to wear an electronic bracelet around his ankle that will notify authorities if he leaves the house for more than one minute. Stokes will stay with an aunt whose address was not made public yesterday. He is barred from driving a car or going to the barbershop where he has worked for two years.

Family sympathy

The bail review, a continuation from Wednesday, was an almost intimate proceeding, at which Stokes' family members cried, objected and prayed as his psychiatric history and current mental state were discussed in detail.

His friends and relatives numbered about 65 people. He is charged with first-degree attempted murder, assault and handgun crimes.

As word of his case has spread, Stokes' family members have received cards and telegrams from across the country, said Wells. Some have sent money to help pay for his defense.

Such far-flung sympathy is the opposite of what the family experienced in 1993, when Stokes' abuse allegations became public. Back then, the family has said, many parishioners and others in the community shunned them. Neighbors were outraged, asking how they dared accuse Blackwell of such a thing.

After the Baltimore state's attorney's office declined to press charges, the archdiocese reinstated Blackwell at St. Edward Catholic Church.

In the courtroom yesterday, Stokes' defenders spoke up.

Testifying yesterday on Stokes' behalf, Vernon Bethea, the father of Stokes' longtime girlfriend, Tiffani Taft, said, "I'm hoping to be his father-in-law. ... To me, he's meek and he's kind. In that respect, he's in a class of his own."

Taft and Stokes have a daughter and have been engaged for two years.

Nun speaks in support

Another witness, Sister John Francis Shilling, principal of St. Frances Academy, said she had taught Stokes in the early 1990s, when the alleged abuse occurred. They became close and have kept in touch, she said.

"He was a very gentle young man," she said. "We never had any idea that there was any violence at all."

After the hearing, Shilling criticized the way the Roman Catholic Church has handled cases like Stokes'. "The church in general has not been sensitive to the victims" and has not always immediately deferred to the law regarding child sexual abuse, she said.

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