Bearing silent witness

Observer: A man who says he was also abused by Maurice Blackwell finds some measure of peace in telling his story.

February 20, 2005|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

The man in the leather jacket slipped in and out of the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse in Baltimore last week, sometimes to have a cigar, sometimes to get air.

He had come to testify in the sexual child abuse trial of Maurice Blackwell, the defrocked priest from West Baltimore's St. Edward Roman Catholic Church. The victim in the case was Dontee Stokes, who shot Blackwell three years ago. But Robert A. Martin, a 50-year-old Louisiana resident, wanted the jury to hear his story, too.

Martin says he was a confused teenager from an unstable home when Blackwell took him under his wing in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s. His account seems similar to that told by Stokes: hugs that turned to intimate touches and then to more explicit sexual contact.

"Something about Maurice just kept me under a spell," Martin says. Blackwell called him "my son, Bobby," and brought him to family functions for years, Martin says.

Pieces of Martin's tale tumbled out in hushed hallway conversations with reporters and Stokes' supporters over the course of last week.

But when the prosecutor sought to call Martin to the witness stand to testify against Blackwell and corroborate Stokes' accusations, the judge rejected the request -- and also instructed jurors to disregard comments from three prosecution witnesses about "other victims."

Blackwell, 58, was convicted Thursday of three counts of sexual child abuse, carrying a sentence of up to 45 years in prison. Blackwell's attorney plans to request a new trial, in part because of fears that jurors improperly considered other alleged victims, such as Martin, during their deliberations.

Blackwell has never publicly commented on Martin's claims, though the former priest denied Stokes' accusations during a news conference on the eve of this month's trial.

"The Martin matter was not criminally charged," says defense attorney Kenneth W. Ravenell. "It's unfortunate that it has been used to cloud the issues regarding Blackwell and Stokes."

Martin's allegations as a teenager led to Blackwell's removal from the parish in 1998. When archdiocese leaders confronted him about Martin, according to an Oct. 23, 1998, Baltimore police report, Blackwell responded: "It's true."

Martin -- a soft-spoken man with heavy eyelids and a thin goatee -- says he came forward not to bring criminal charges but to persuade church leaders to believe Stokes, who made his allegations against Blackwell in 1993 at age 17.

The 6 1/2 -year-old police reports on Martin's claims provide virtually the same account he gave to reporters last week. Ravenell noted that detectives never interviewed Blackwell about Martin.

Taken by Lt. Frederick V. Roussey, the detective who investigated Stokes' allegations, the reports mention several times that Martin "absolutely refuses" to return to Baltimore.

The final Martin police report, dated Oct. 27, 1998, closes the investigation because "the alleged victim made it extremely clear that he has no intention of returning to Baltimore in reference to this case."

With three wrecked marriages, a strained relationship with two sons and failed friendships, Martin says he believes the only way to find peace is to tell others what Blackwell did to him.

"I guess I'm still not OK about it," Martin says, his eyes welling with tears. "I wanted to suppress this and forget it, but I can't. I just want to be able to go on."

It was the late 1960s when Martin, a pupil at Clifton Park Junior High, met Blackwell, a seminarian in his 20s. Blackwell wore an Afro and a big, shiny cross when he came to speak to his class, Martin remembers. Martin was raised Catholic, and he says Blackwell inspired him.

After the lecture, Martin and Blackwell began a conversation. Over time, they became friends. Martin shared troubles that he was having with his parents.

"It was like a magnet," he says. "He just came to me."

Blackwell began taking Martin on short trips. Other children also went along, but Martin says Blackwell was "touchy" with him in a way that he wasn't with the other youths.

But one night, when Martin was about 14 and had had a fight with his parents, Blackwell picked him up and drove him to the seminary, Martin says. Blackwell took Martin to his small bedroom, put on some music, and the two talked. When Martin went to bed that night, Blackwell lay down beside him and began hugging and kissing him, he says.

"He told me the Lord wouldn't have a problem with what we were doing," Martin says. "He said it was OK. God loved me, and he was showing me God's love."

During the sexual contact that first night, Martin says, "I was full of `I don't know what to do.'" The touching continued, at the seminary and then at St. Bernardine's, Blackwell's first church assignment.

Blackwell told Martin not to tell, and he agreed, he says. He says he didn't want people associating him with "behavior like that." Martin says he is heterosexual and has had no other sexual experiences with a man.

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