City prosecutors plan search for 1998 letters

Archdiocese officials wrote about allegations of abuse against priest

May 20, 2002|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN STAFF

Baltimore prosecutors will begin an investigation today to determine what happened to two letters detailing a sexual abuse allegation against the Rev. Maurice J. Blackwell that the Baltimore Archdiocese says it sent to the state's attorney in 1998, but which investigators have no record of receiving, a spokeswoman said yesterday.

Based on their findings, city prosecutors then will decide whether to open a new investigation into the allegations, said Margaret T. Burns, a spokeswoman for State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy.

Archdiocesan officials brought the letters to the attention of prosecutors late Friday. Burns said she hoped that after a thorough review of records today, prosecutors could determine what happened to them.

"It is unclear at this time what any investigation into this allegation may have revealed at the time," Burns said.

The letters reported allegations of sexual activity between Blackwell and a boy that began more than 30 years ago, when the boy was in the fifth grade, and continued for several years, sources have said.

Based on the allegations, which surfaced in 1998, church officials removed Blackwell from his West Baltimore parish and suspended his priestly powers that fall. Blackwell admitted in a statement to his parish that he had been sexually involved with a boy, but said it was before he was ordained in 1974.

Burns said letters reporting the allegations from the archdiocese were dated September 1998 and October 1998, with the second letter containing additional information from the church about the alleged abuse.

All abuse allegations and referrals from 1998 are contained in a single file in the prosecutor's office, Burns said. The two letters involving the Blackwell allegations are not among those records, however, even though referrals and letters from the archdiocese on other matters from that time are included.

Burns yesterday also offered new details about the 1993 investigation of Blackwell's alleged abuse of Dontee Stokes, who is accused of shooting Blackwell last week.

She said that of the two polygraph examinations Stokes took during that investigation, the second was a follow-up to specifically investigate whether there had been any instances of abuse other than the inappropriate touching he reported:

"The only question he did not pass [on the initial exam] is whether there were any other instances of sexual abuse."

Law enforcement sources have said they believed there could have been additional, more serious, abuse but Stokes was unwilling to discuss it.

Some of Stokes' relatives have said all charges against him should be dropped because of the alleged abuse he suffered 10 years ago. Authorities say they believed Stokes was abused but did not have any corroborating evidence to substantiate a criminal charge against Blackwell.

Burns said yesterday that the state's attorney would vigorously prosecute the case against Stokes, but said prosecutors consider mitigating aspects in all cases.

Burns said prosecutors do not plan to ask the archdiocese to resubmit to them all referrals on sexual abuse in recent years.

The head of an independent advisory panel that reviews abuse complaints for the Baltimore Archdiocese said last week that the panel would review about 15 new complaints when it meets next month - but city prosecutors say they have received only four new referrals in recent months.

Burns said yesterday that those four cases involve five victims. The most recent abuse allegation is from 1974.

She said she was confident that all new complaints received by the archdiocese would be referred to prosecutors.

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