Priest's sex abuse trial to go forward

Age, political motivation of Blackwell charges no bar to case, judge rules

April 20, 2004|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

Baltimore prosecutors can proceed with sexual child abuse counts against Maurice J. Blackwell, the priest accused of sodomizing Dontee Stokes more than 15 years ago, according to a judge's ruling issued yesterday.

Circuit Judge John M. Glynn denied a motion made by Blackwell's lawyers last month asking that sexual child abuse charges be thrown out because they were too old and politically motivated.

Glynn ruled that although prosecutors first investigated the abuse claims in 1993 and didn't charge Blackwell until 2003, the delay "was not purposefully done ... to gain advantage over the defendant."

Blackwell is accused of fondling and sodomizing Stokes, 28, when Stokes was a teen-ager.

Stokes, Blackwell's former parishioner, shot and wounded the clergyman in May 2002 after confronting him about the alleged abuse. Stokes was later acquitted of attempted murder at a trial held at the height of the child sex abuse scandal in the U.S. Roman Catholic church.

Blackwell was indicted in May last year on four counts of sexual child abuse and four counts of assault; prosecutors said the charges stemmed from incidents beginning in 1989 and ending in 1992. Last month, Glynn threw out four assault counts, with the defense and the prosecution agreeing that those charges were too old to prosecute.

"We are happy the judge dismissed four of the eight counts," Kenneth W. Ravenell, Blackwell's lawyer, said yesterday. "It would be a tough decision for the judge to dismiss all the counts before trial."

Glynn said in a nine-page opinion that the remaining charges brought against Blackwell may be politically motivated, but that it does not bar the state from continuing with its case.

"The state's behavior in indicting these cases long after their initial investigation may lead some to suggest bad faith and political pandering," the judge wrote, but added that those allegations should not prevent the case from going forward.

Trial is set for June 3.

In his argument last month, Ravenell questioned the credibility of the sodomy charge against Blackwell. Stokes did not allege he was sodomized by Blackwell until after he shot the priest, Ravenell said.

Ravenell also contended that prosecutors were swayed by the growing number of victims who have said they were abused by Catholic priests.

Prosecutor Jo Anne Stanton said at the hearing that it is common for abuse victims to talk more about their molestation as they age.

During Stokes' trial in 2002, he testified that he shot Blackwell, the priest who baptized him, in the hand and hip with a .357 Magnum handgun. He said Blackwell molested him when he was a teen-ager, and he was confronting the priest to find "reconciliation."

In a police report, Stokes said he became angry when the priest pretended to ignore him that day.

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