Stokes testifies of abuse by Blackwell

Defense elicits admission of sexual uncertainties

February 12, 2005|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

Dontee Stokes told a crowded Baltimore courtroom yesterday that he was sexually molested by his former priest, whose warm embraces, he testified, turned to inappropriate touches and finally, a sexual assault in a church rectory.

As the trial of now-defrocked priest Maurice Blackwell opened, Stokes, 29, testified that the molestation occurred from 1989 to 1992, while he was a young parishioner at St. Edward Catholic Church in West Baltimore.

"By the time I understood what was going on, it was too late to really do anything," Stokes testified.

A decade later, after a failed investigation into his claims, and at the height of the sexual abuse scandal in the American Catholic church, Stokes shot Blackwell, 58.

It was only after Stokes was acquitted of attempted murder in December 2002 that Blackwell was indicted on charges of sexual child abuse. The trial is to resume Monday.

"This case is ultimately about two things sacred to all of us - faith and trust - and the violation of those," Assistant State's Attorney Jo Anne Stanton said in her opening statement.

She said jurors would hear about "15 years of tragedy" that her star witness, Stokes, had endured because of Blackwell.

In a fierce cross-examination of Stokes that lasted all afternoon, Blackwell's attorney, Kenneth W. Ravenell, laid the groundwork for the former priest's defense by establishing that Stokes has a history of mental delusions and questions about his own sexuality, both of which he said predate his relationship with Blackwell.

Ravenell had told jurors during his opening statement that Stokes' mental state led him to make false accusations about molestation to rationalize his own homosexual tendencies.

"Here's your fall guy," Ravenell said to the jury, pointing to Blackwell.

Two decades after becoming one of the first two African-American priests to be ordained by the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Blackwell was stripped of his church authority in 1998 after admitting he'd had a sexual relationship with a different teenage boy in the 1970s.

Pope John Paul II defrocked Blackwell in October.

Hints during testimony

It's not clear whether the jury will hear testimony about those events, but there were hints of them yesterday in court.

Although Ravenell referred to his client as "Father Blackwell," Stanton usually called him "Blackwell" or "Mr. Blackwell." At least twice on the witness stand, Stokes made reference to "other victims" or "others in similar situations" without elaborating.

In his testimony, Stokes delved into his beliefs about such topics as spiritual possession, alien abduction and meditation so deep that one's spirit can travel to outer space.

He said he has had numerous out-of-body experiences, including one during an alleged sexual assault by Blackwell in 1992 and again 10 years later when he shot Blackwell three times with an illegally purchased .357 Magnum revolver.

Rising from his seat at the witness stand yesterday and gesturing with his hands, Stokes re-enacted part of the out-of-body experience during the alleged sexual assault.

Stokes' testimony yesterday was similar to his statements on the witness stand during his own attempted-murder trial when he pantomimed his out-of-body experience during the shooting.

Referring to the time he said he was assaulted by Blackwell, Stokes testified, "I felt like I was hovering over top of myself."

That's the reason, he said, he did not run away or fight during what he described as the worst of his encounters with Blackwell.

Stokes said that incident - the last time he said Blackwell molested him - occurred when he was about 16, in Blackwell's living quarters of the church rectory.

He said the priest had just gotten out of the shower and had taken the teenager's hands and used them to touch his bare chest.

As Stokes recounted this, he looked at Blackwell and attempted to address him directly saying: "You took your hands ... "

Circuit Judge Stuart R. Berger quickly asked Stokes to address only the jury.

Says he ran away

Stokes testified that Blackwell attempted two sex acts that day before Stokes was able to snap back into his body and run away.

When he discussed the alleged abuse several months later with a counselor, who called the police, Stokes never mentioned the rape attempt - a point to which Ravenell repeatedly returned.

It wasn't until July 2002, after Stokes had been arrested for shooting Blackwell and retained Warren A. Brown as his lawyer, that Stokes disclosed the alleged rape attempt, he said under cross-examination.

Stokes testified that he had been too embarrassed to talk about the alleged assault when he was younger and had worried that the charge would put Blackwell behind bars - something he said he had not wanted to happen at the time.

Ravenell suggested, through his cross-examination of Stokes, that he fabricated the charges of sexual abuse as part of his defense in his own trial, where a jury acquitted him of the most serious charges.

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