Stokes avoids prison term

Man who shot priest to serve 8 months at home

Sentenced for 3 handgun crimes

`Let him go on with his life,' lawyer implores judge

February 15, 2003|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

Dontee D. Stokes, the West Baltimore barber who last May shot a Roman Catholic priest he says molested him as a teen-ager, was ordered to serve eight months of home detention yesterday by a city judge.

Stokes, 27, will serve no prison time, though he admits shooting the Rev. Maurice J. Blackwell outside the priest's Reservoir Hill home. The incident gained national attention and led to an apology from Cardinal William H. Keeler, who said he should never have reinstated Blackwell after Stokes' 1993 claims of sexual abuse.

A Baltimore Circuit Court jury convicted Stokes in December of three minor handgun violations in connection with Blackwell's shooting, but acquitted him of attempted murder and five other counts that could have sent him to prison for life. Stokes told the jury that he shot Blackwell during an "out-of-body" experience and that he had no control over himself at the time.

Before Stokes was sentenced by Judge John N. Prevas, he and his attorney, Warren A. Brown, asked the court to credit him with the 10 months he has been under home detention and impose no additional time.

"He has been incarcerated since May 13, 2002, either at the city jail or his aunt's house," Brown said. "It's important to underscore the things that have gone on in Dontee's young life. There is no greater punishment than that. He has had to deal with what was going to happen to him, and that was a very heavy burden on him."

Brown added, "He still has the ghost of the past that will be with him for the rest of his life. I just think fair is fair. I'm asking the court to give Dontee time served. Let him go on with his life."

Stokes told the judge that he wants to go to college but has been unable to because he has been under house arrest.

"During my life, I have kept myself in a positive direction, up until the time of the shooting," Stokes said. "My record shows I've been active in the community and tried to help out the community. I want to get back to that. I'm trying to get myself back in a positive direction."

But Prevas wasn't swayed.

"This has been a very troublesome case," Prevas said. "Mr. Stokes took the law into his own hands, and he did so in a way that was found to be justified. ... The question is, how do you use the law in the sentencing of an individual, be fair to that individual and bring some closure to the victim, who in this case didn't participate in the trial?"

The state's attorney's office investigated Blackwell in 1993 but never charged him.

"Mr. Stokes has done some positive things," Prevas continued, "but I am highly suspicious of the way Mr. Stokes, the gun and Maurice Blackwell came together that day. Other negatives are [that] I'm not satisfied as to his explanation of why he doesn't pay taxes, he has dropped out of some schools, and his comments on The Today Show that he doesn't understand the criminality of carrying around that gun and having fired it."

Prevas also said he was bothered that Stokes shot Blackwell once, then got out of his car and shot him twice more as Blackwell tried to crawl away.

He sentenced Stokes to three years in prison, suspending all but 18 months. He then ordered Stokes to spend the remaining 18 months in home detention. The judge subtracted Stokes' 10 months of confinement, leaving eight months.

Prevas also sentenced Stokes to three years of supervised probation.

Stokes said after the sentencing that he believes Prevas didn't get the full picture of the events surrounding the shooting.

"The judge has been very fair, but I think he has some misinformation he was going on as far as me getting out of the car, and as far as him not believing the out-of-body experience, and as far as the reason why I had the gun out," Stokes said after the sentencing.

In a news conference, he disputed Prevas' claim that he didn't understand the criminality of his actions.

"How could I not appreciate the criminality of it?" Stokes asked. "I was facing life in prison. ... I don't want to see anyone else go through what I've gone through, or respond in a violent way. I've never made a statement that condones that."

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