Mother of man charged with shooting priest says 'All he wanted was an apology'

Wednesday, May 15th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BALTIMORE (AP) _ A man charged with gunning down a Roman Catholic priest had grown frustrated after being unable to get an apology from the priest, who he claimed fondled him over a three-year period, the man's mother said.

Dontee Stokes, 26, shot the Rev. Maurice Blackwell after the priest refused to talk to him, police spokeswoman Ragina Averella said. Stokes was charged with attempted murder, gun violations and assault and was being held without bail.

The shooting _ the latest development in the sexual abuse scandal that has roiled the Roman Catholic Church _ drew pained reactions from church leaders, with Baltimore Cardinal William Keeler saying he was ``appalled'' by the violence. Stokes' mother, Tamara Stokes, accused the archdiocese of mishandling her son's molestation allegations.

``All he wanted was an apology due to what had happened,'' she said Tuesday night in front of her home as family and friends stood around her holding candles and praying for Dontee's release.

Blackwell, 56, was in serious but stable condition at University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center. He was shot Monday in his left hand and twice in his left side near his hip, police said.

Dontee Stokes was scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday.

His mother said she hoped to bring her son home after the hearing. She said the charges should be dropped because her son ``was not in the right state of mind'' at the time of the shooting.

In 1993, the church concluded that Stokes' claims of being molested by Blackwell as a teen-ager were not credible. However, the priest has been on involuntary leave since 1998 because of allegations leveled by another alleged victim.

Tamara Stokes said the archdiocese never contacted her family to discuss her son's case. She also said she has had ill-will toward Blackwell since 1993.

``This is my child that he did things to. I trusted him,'' Tamara Stokes said. ``I put him up on a perch to be a guidance counselor for my son. I do regret that he has been shot. I wish that matters had been handled much sooner and that it hadn't gotten to this point.''

Since the sex scandal erupted in Boston early this year, the uproar has led to the dismissal or resignation of dozens of priests across the country. The Rev. Don Rooney, 48, of the Cleveland diocese shot himself to death after being accused of molesting a girl.

Cardinal Keeler said he was ``appalled that another act of violence has occurred in the city of Baltimore.'' He also said: ``This is a new experience for all of us. What I sense is an exquisite quality of pain.''

Police said Stokes had a .357-caliber handgun in a black duffel bag when he drove past Blackwell's home Monday evening, circled the block and came back. Police said Stokes tried several times to talk to the priest, but Blackwell showed no interest in speaking with him.

Stokes, a barber who has a 20-month-old daughter, told authorities he ``doesn't know what came over him'' after that, according to the police report.

Police said Stokes opened fire from the car. Six hours later Stokes called police from Gillis Memorial Christian Community Church, telling officers Blackwell molested him as a teen-ager.

According to a 1993 police report, Stokes, then 17, told officers that Blackwell had touched and fondled him for three years while he attended Bible study classes at St. Edward Roman Catholic Church.

The police never charged Blackwell. The archdiocese conducted its own investigation and found the charges were not credible, said Ray Kempisty, a spokesman for the Baltimore Archdiocese.

Stokes' uncle said what happened to his nephew as a teen-ager traumatized him. ``His manhood was taken from him,'' Charles Stokes told The Associated Press.

Blackwell was sent to a church-run residential treatment center in Hartford, Conn., for psychological evaluation and returned to priestly duties.

An independent board criticized the decision, but Keeler said at the time that he had met with Blackwell and was satisfied the priest ``had recommitted himself to faithful spiritual service.''

However, the archdiocese stripped Blackwell of his priestly duties four years ago after finding he had a relationship with another minor, Kempisty said. Blackwell was removed as pastor of St. Edward, where he had worked since 1979.

Church officials said Blackwell admitted to the relationship. Police investigated but again did not charge Blackwell, according to the archdiocese.

Blackwell's sport utility vehicle, which had license plates reading ``PRIEST,'' was parked Tuesday afternoon near his home. It had what appeared to be two bullet holes in it.

Norma Allen, a neighbor who has known Blackwell for 20 years, said the accusations against him did not reflect the outgoing and charitable man she knew.

``Never in my life would I ever imagine that would happen,'' she said. ``They're getting really crazy when they start shooting people of faith, people of God.''