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Acquittal of Stokes is a case of moral - not legal - justice

Gregory Kane - The Baltimore Sun

December 21, 2002

HOW, the question has been asked, could a jury possibly find Dontee D. Stokes not guilty of the attempted murder of Maurice Blackwell when Stokes admitted he shot the man?

Well, at least some people are asking it. Enough for Tamara Stokes, Dontee Stokes' mom, to publicly rip WBAL radio talk-show host Chip Franklin this week for bringing up the question.

Ms. Stokes was so miffed by the pillorying of her son that she sounded as if she wanted to remove Franklin's prostate gland with a corkscrew.

Some jurors have said that they believed attorney Warren Brown's "Twilight Zone" defense.

Stokes testified that he felt "outside his body" when he shot Blackwell. Others have scoffed at the notion. They don't buy it.

And they sure as heck don't buy Stokes' claim, repeated on several talk shows, that he "just happened" to take the gun from his house when he "just happened" to "accidentally" bump into Blackwell and then demanded an apology for years of sexual abuse when things got out of hand.

So the question remains: How could the jury acquit? Did the jury weigh the facts of the case? A few jurors were quoted in Sun reporter Allison Klein's story as saying they did, but their statements indicate otherwise.

"I think he [Dontee Stokes] is a very nice man, and he's been through enough," one of the jurors told Klein.

That's probably true, but those observations don't come anywhere near qualifying as being a fact of the case or evidence, which is what jurors are supposed to weigh. Stokes' "niceness" and his "suffering enough" sound like the juror's opinions, which, theoretically, have no place in the deliberation process.

So let's cut through all the bat guano about "out of body" experiences and how the jury didn't do the right thing and cut to the chase.

Jurors in the Stokes trial simply made a statement about how the overwhelming majority of people in this society feel about pedophilia: It's still the No. 1 taboo. Those who violate the taboo do so at their own risk.

How bad is pedophilia? Even the armed robbers, murderers, stick-up boys, drug dealers and assorted lowlifes who inhabit our prisons will have no truck with a pedophile.

These guys, society's worst, have a cut card. They have some standards. There are some lines even they draw. And they draw the line at adults having sex with kids. When a pedophile walks into a prison, his life is on the line from Day 1.

Now if the miscreants feel that way, how do you think law-abiding folks, sitting on a jury, will feel?

I couldn't have served on the Stokes jury. I'd have told the judge during the voir dire, "There's no way I'd vote to convict this guy."

Even though Blackwell hasn't even been charged, much less convicted, of molesting Stokes, that ugly specter of pedophilia -- and my belief that the acts of pedophiles will eventually catch up with them, one way or another -- would have influenced my vote for either guilty or not guilty.

Would any of the jurors in the Stokes trial acknowledge that they felt this way? Probably not, but they know they did. And we could lament, for days, weeks, months and years, about how they didn't follow the letter of the law.

But there were issues in the Stokes trial that went beyond strict definitions of guilt or innocence.

Would it have been fair to find Stokes guilty while the guy accused of molesting him spent not one day in prison? Is there not some justice higher than man's justice?

Is there not one taboo left in this society that, if broken, will allow us to be more lenient toward one who seeks vengeance on the one who breaks it?

The jury voted yes. It may have been the wrong vote, but you'll get no gripe from this corner. And those who argue that the verdict will inspire vigilante action throughout Baltimore with people seeking acts of vengeance need a reminder that such was happening long before Stokes pulled the trigger.

The avengers and victims have commonly been black men Stokes' age and younger. That is where the similarity begins and ends. Most of Baltimore's vigilante cases involve street disputes over drugs, money, women or insults, real and perceived.

Others involve the senior citizen pushed to the edge by youthful tormentors. Stokes' is a rare case of an alleged sexual abuse victim who went over the edge.

What happened between Stokes and Blackwell on a Baltimore's street is clearly the exception, not the rule. Nor is there any danger it will become one.

Copyright © 2002, The Baltimore Sun

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