Stokes retrial set on gun charges

No prison time involved

prosecutors want to stop him from owning firearm

Acquitted in shooting of priest

February 26, 2004|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

Dontee D. Stokes, the city barber who was acquitted of shooting a priest he said molested him, will be retried on related handgun charges that were thrown out last week by the state's highest court, prosecutors said yesterday.

The state will retry Stokes not in an attempt to send him to prison, but to prevent him from owning a handgun in the future, said Margaret T. Burns, a spokeswoman for the city state's attorney's office.

"The guilty conviction is very important," Burns said. "If Dontee Stokes has a handgun conviction, he can't get a permit to purchase a firearm."

Even if Stokes is convicted of the handgun charges, he would not serve another day in jail or on home detention. Under Maryland law, he cannot be given a stiffer sentence in a retrial than in the original trial.

Stokes was acquitted by a city jury in 2002 of attempted murder and other serious charges in the shooting of the Rev. Maurice J. Blackwell. After admitting that he shot Blackwell, Stokes was convicted of carrying and discharging a handgun, and served 18 months of home detention for the violations.

When reached last night, Stokes declined to comment, saying, "I'm just finding this out myself."

Blackwell was shot May 13, 2002, when Stokes drove to the priest's Reservoir Hill home and fired at him after briefly confronting the priest about abuse that he said had occurred a decade earlier.

The clergyman, who lost part of his hand and suffered hip injuries, has denied the abuse allegations. He was charged last year with sex abuse and is scheduled for trial March 22.

The Maryland Court of Appeals overturned Stokes' handgun convictions Feb. 18 because of a judge's error in allowing too many jurors to deliberate during the case.

His lawyer, Warren Brown, said it is likely Stokes will work out a plea agreement with prosecutors so Stokes will be sentenced to the time he has served for the charges.

"The worst that will happen to him is what he's already been subjected to," Brown said. "We've got nothing to lose."

In overturning Stokes' handgun conviction, the court ruled that Circuit Judge John N. Prevas erred by allowing four alternate jurors to deliberate with the rest of the jury panel.

Prevas said at the time of the trial that he did not dismiss the alternate jurors because the case had a wrinkle: Stokes' lawyer filed a motion asking that Stokes be found not criminally responsible for the crime.

That meant that the case was broken into two parts. In the first phase, the jury had to decide whether to convict Stokes. In the second, it had to determine whether he was criminally responsible.

Prevas allowed the alternates to deliberate with the jury for a few hours, then told the alternates that they should remain in the room but not offer comment.

Alternate jurors serve as backups in case one of the 12 members of the jury panel becomes ill or cannot continue for some other reason.

Prevas said at the time that he did not want to dismiss any jurors during the first phase in case he needed them for the second.

He noted that Maryland law offers little guidance about what to do with alternates during a trial's first phase.

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