The Rev. Maurice J. Blackwell was indicted yesterday on child sexual abuse charges, nearly a year after the Baltimore clergyman was thrust into the national spotlight for being shot by his alleged victim, a former parishioner whom he had baptized as a baby.
The four-count indictment alleges that Blackwell sexually assaulted Dontee Stokes numerous times from 1989 to 1992, when Stokes was 13 to 16 years old.
The Roman Catholic priest who was a close friend to Stokes’ family could face up to 60 years in prison if convicted of all four counts.
Blackwell, 57, is expected to surrender to police today, said Margaret T. Burns, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore state’s attorney’s office.
He declined to comment yesterday through his lawyer, Kenneth W. Ravenell. He has previously denied abusing Stokes.
Before Blackwell’s indictment, a city grand jury heard testimony this week from Stokes, who shot his former priest three times in the hand and hip last spring on a West Baltimore street.
“I’m happy to be moving forward with the indictment,” Stokes, 27, said last night. “I want him to admit what he did and be held accountable for it. I want it to be known I’m not a liar.”
Stokes who was acquitted of attempted murder charges in December testified at his trial that he shot Blackwell on May 13 because the clergyman refused to apologize for the alleged abuse.
He told the jury that he shot Blackwell during an “out-of-body” experience.
Stokes, a West Baltimore barber, is serving eight months’ home detention for minor handgun charges he was convicted of in connection with the shooting.
“It is a very unique situation because in many ways the tables are turned now,” said Sue Archibald, president of The Linkup – Survivors of Clergy Abuse, a national victims’ rights group. “To have testimony from Dontee and others in order to prosecute Maurice Blackwell is unusual, but it’s appropriate.”
Blackwell, who has been suspended from his duties as a priest, refused to testify at Stokes’ trial, invoking his Fifth Amendment right.
In December, the Baltimore Archdiocese began the process of having Blackwell defrocked, although he continues to receive a $1,000 monthly stipend following church policy, said Stephen Kearney, a spokesman for the archdiocese.
Kearney, who said the stipend will end when Blackwell is no longer a priest, said the archdiocese always thought the allegations against Blackwell were credible. The archdiocese has requested that the Vatican revoke Blackwell’s status as a priest.
“We hope today’s grand jury decision, and the upcoming prosecution, will bring some measure of peace to those who have been harmed,” Kearney said yesterday.
Stokes told the grand jury this week that Blackwell sodomized him as a teen-ager, according to Stokes’ lawyer, Warren A. Brown.
He told authorities in 1993 that he was abused by Blackwell but he did not say he was raped. Prosecutors said that at the time they did not have enough evidence to proceed with the case.
Brown, who defended Stokes on the attempted murder charges, said he “got goosebumps” and “jumped for joy” when he heard of the indictment yesterday.
“Dontee deserves this. He went out on limb over a decade ago and said this man abused him,” Brown said. “He was pilloried in his own community. He was spat at, ostracized. He became a recluse.”
Last summer, months before Stokes’ trial, Brown stood on the courthouse steps with a bullhorn, hurling insults at prosecutors for not prosecuting Blackwell.
“My credibility was on the line,” Brown said.
After Stokes’ allegations in 1993, Cardinal William H. Keeler removed Blackwell from St. Edward Roman Catholic Church in West Baltimore for 90 days and sent him for a psychological evaluation.
When Blackwell returned, Keeler reinstated him, a move he testified that he later regretted. He also apologized to Stokes for not being able to prevent the abuse.
In 1998, Blackwell was removed from the congregation and suspended from his priestly functions after he admitted to sexually abusing a teen-ager in the 1970s. He has recently been employed as a coordinator for Maryland One Church, One Addict, a nonprofit organization that encourages churches to adopt recovering addicts.
Archibald, the victims’ rights advocate, said the unpredictable legal twists in this case have set it apart from other instances of priest sex abuse across the country.
“There needs to be accountability on both sides of the case,” Archibald said. “Dontee’s accountability was already examined, and he was found to be not responsible. The fact that Maurice Blackwell was injured by Dontee doesn’t relieve him of scrutiny of his own conduct.”
Stokes said he hopes other victims of abuse are encouraged to come forward.
“I’ve suffered a lot of depression and anguish over the years,” he said. “I hope other victims I’ve talked to come forward. I want it to be known I’m not the only one this happened to.”
Joanne L. Suder, a Baltimore lawyer who handles civil abuse cases, said five of her clients have said they were also abused by Blackwell. She has not filed any suits, she said, because the statute of limitations for such suits has expired.