A Question of Justice

Baltimore Man Stands Trial For Shooting Priest He Says Abused Him

"A man violated me. And it's hard to live with, knowing that you've been violated by a man," says Dontee Stokes. "You know, you really don't have anything left after that."

Stokes is talking about the Rev. Maurice Blackwell - a charismatic Roman Catholic priest in Baltimore who, Stokes says, molested him over a three-year period starting in 1990 when Stokes was 14.

Last May, after nearly a decade of waiting for authorities to charge the priest, Stokes decided to confront Father Blackwell himself, 60 Minutes II Correspondent Vicki Mabrey reports.

When he saw the priest on the street, he stopped to talk to him and, he says, the priest ignored him.

Stokes' lawyer won't let him talk about the shooting, but the facts aren't in dispute. After exchanging words with the priest, Stokes pulled out a .357 magnum and shot Blackwell three times in the hand and hip - critically wounding him.

Stokes was an unlikely triggerman. Born and raised in Baltimore, he was a quiet kid who had never been in trouble. His refuge, he says, was St. Edward's Roman Catholic Church.

"It was a vibrant church," the young man recalls. "I was attracted to the youth group they had there." Stokes became so involved in the church that he even considered becoming a priest.

His mentor was Father Blackwell, who baptized him as an infant. Blackwell was a guiding force in the community: a well-connected leader who reveled in his role as priest.

"He was a father figure for me at the time," Stokes says. "He introduced me to people as his son," something that Stokes says he saw as a "badge of pride."

Stokes became a leader in the youth group and Blackwell would ask him to help out after hours at the rectory, which meant the priest and his young parishioner often were alone.

The abuse was progressive, he says. "There would be, maybe, a hug would last a little longer than I thought it would. Or thought it should. It would get to the point where it was just well beyond a point where it was comfortable - to just being overtly sexual in nature." Then it progressed to what Stokes, with difficulty, admits is rape.

After three years of abuse, he confided in a therapist, who was required to report the accusation to authorities because Stokes was a minor.

Detectives discovered a parish rife with rumors about the popular priest and found Stokes' story, bolstered by two lie detector tests, believable.

Margaret Burns, spokesman for the Baltimore prosecutor's office, says prosecutors spent three months trying to build a case against Blackwell but in the end lacked the evidence to bring charges against the priest.

Blackwell denied molesting Stokes, but was sent to a psychiatric facility that has treated a number of priests accused of sexual misconduct. After three months, psychiatrists concluded that Blackwell was not "a danger to young men." The archdiocese allowed him to return to St. Edward's, but he no longer could work with children.

The parish community rallied around Blackwell, but the church's own independent review board condemned the decision to send him back. In an open letter to the head of the church, Archbishop William Keeler, board members described Stokes as "consistent and credible," and said Blackwell's return to the parish "constituted an unacceptable risk."

Archbishop Keeler did not heed the warning, and Father Blackwell was free to remain with his flock. His popularity soared; he even went on to play himself in a movie about life in a poor Baltimore neighborhood.

Stokes, on the other hand, became depressed, dropped out of school and stopped attending St. Edward's. "I wouldn't pass by the church," he says. "Stopped going in the neighborhood."

Then in 1998, Blackwell admitted to sexually abusing another boy in Baltimore and was immediately removed from the parish.

When he learned of this, Stokes says he "really jumped for joy." He expected his own case to be reopened but that never happened.

Stokes says he tried to get on with his life. He became a barber and started a family, but then the news reports started coming in from all over the country. Priests were being led away in handcuffs.

Stokes says that as the sex scandal continued to make headlines, he was sure his accusations against Blackwell would be revisited.

In May, a decade of waiting turned to violence. After confronting Blackwell on the street and shooting him three times, Stokes fled the scene. He ended up in a local church and confessed to the minister.

"I told him I was going to turn myself in," Stokes says, "because I did something wrong. And he asked me what, and I told him I had shot a priest."

Now he is out on bail, ordered confined to his home and awaiting trial. His lawyer, Warren Brown, says Stokes should not be held responsible for his actions.

"At the time that Dontee pulled the trigger, he was not capable of understanding what he was doing," Brown says. "Not capable. That those nine years had welled up in him. That something went wrong. That we all have that point, where we reach it, we have no control over our actions."

After the shooting, Cardinal Keeler gave Stokes the first sign that the church recognized his suffering. "To him personally, I apologize for the pain he has suffered and to him I renewed the love of the archdiocese to assist with the counseling that appropriately he may require," the cardinal said of Stokes.

Neither Blackwell, who has recovered from his gunshot wounds and is in seclusion, nor the cardinal's office, would speak with 60 Minutes II.

In 1993, Stokes stood alone as father Blackwell's sole accuser. Since the shooting earlier this year, at least five other men have come forward and said they, too, were molested by Blackwell. The prosecutor's office says it is investigating all child abuse allegations.

So far, Blackwell has not been charged with any crime. Dontee Stokes is scheduled to stand trial for attempted murder later this month.

"I just hope for justice," Stokes says. "Whatever way. If I have to go to jail, then he should be in jail across from me. If I've got to serve 25 years, he should be serving 25 years."