- The Washington Times - Monday, February 3, 2003

So, Maryland Attorney General Joseph Curran wants executions banned. Standing in front of the State House on Thursday, Mr. Curran, whose office is responsible for defending the state's case for executions on appeal, declared that "capital punishment comes only at the risk of killing an innocent person." Apparently less worried about the threat convicted killers pose to correctional officers or the possibility of escape, he said has questions about racial and geographic "disparities" in Maryland's application of the death penalty.
Interestingly, Mr. Curran's statement comes just three days after a Baltimore County judge signed a warrant setting the date for the execution of serial murderer and rapist Steven Oken, now scheduled to die by lethal injection next month for a 1987 killing spree. Since Oken who is white and from an upper-middle-class family would stand to be the first beneficiary of Mr. Curran's proposal, it's worth taking a closer look at his case.
The facts are clear and uncontested: On the evening of Nov. 1, 1987, Oken approached Dawn Marie Garvin outside her apartment in White Marsh and asked if he could use the telephone. Mrs. Garvin, whose husband was stationed at a Navy base in Virginia, allowed Oken into the apartment. He produced a handgun, raped the 20-year-old newlywed and shot her to death. Then, on Nov. 16, Oken raped and murdered his sister-in-law, Patricia Hirt, in White Marsh. He then got into his automobile and drove to Kittery, Maine, where, the following day, he murdered Lori Ward, a hotel clerk. Oken was subsequently convicted of all three murders.
Trial records strongly suggest that Oken carefully planned his murderous rampage. As the Maryland Court of Appeals noted last year, a note in Oken's handwriting was discovered in his home, which stated in part: "[G]auze pads, 5 by 11 inches by 4 inches,chloroform, N25B, gag; sock and adhesive tape, two inches by five inches by five yards; surgical gloves … panty hose; dark color to cover hair and face … dildos, vibrators; et cetera." At sentencing, a psychiatrist testified in grotesque detail about Oken's description of how he raped and murdered Dawn Marie Garvin.
Oken's attorney, Fred Warren Bennett, plans to ask Maryland courts to bar next month's execution based on geographic "disparities" legalese he uses to characterize the fact that Baltimore County State's Attorney Sandra O'Connor seeks the death penalty in virtually every case in which a defendant is eligible, while prosecutors in other Maryland jurisdictions fail to do so. Mr. Bennett has said that, if this fails, he will seek clemency from Gov. Robert Ehrlich, who has begun reviewing Oken's case.
We trust that, after doing so, the governor who rightly ended the moratorium on executions will do the right thing and allow Oken's execution to go forward.

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