- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Several weeks ago, this newspaper expressed skepticism that triple murderer Steven Oken would be executed this month. So it did not come as a major surprise when U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte granted Oken, who was scheduled to die by lethal injection this week, an indefinite stay of execution for the November 1987 rape-murder of newlywed Dawn Marie Garvin. Judge Messitte ordered the state to turn over documents about its lethal injection procedures in preparation for a July 19 hearing in his court on whether this method of execution violates Oken’s constitutional rights. Yesterday, the Messitte decision was upheld by a federal appeals court. Unless the Supreme Court overturns the conviction in the next day or so, Oken’s death warrant issued by a Baltimore County judge — which permitted his execution this week — will expire.

Judge Messitte, a Clinton appointee, says the hearing is required in the wake of the Supreme Court’s May 24 ruling, which stayed the execution of convicted murderer David Nelson in Alabama to permit him to contest the constitutionality of lethal injection as a method of execution. In a nutshell, Nelson contends that the method used to inject him with the fatal dosage of chemicals will hurt him too much. Oken has similar concerns. What that means is that the terrible 17-year-long ordeal of the Mrs. Garvin’s family — which has been outspoken in its insistence on Oken’s execution — will continue with no end in sight.

But Oken’s terrible crimes have never been in dispute. On Nov. 1, 1987, he raped and shot to death Mrs. Garvin, a newlywed, after using a ruse to enter her apartment. Fifteen days later, he raped and murdered his own sister-in-law, Patricia Hirt. He then drove to Kittery, Maine, in Mrs. Hirt’s car. The following day, he raped and murdered Lori Ward, a hotel clerk. He was convicted in the Garvin case in 1991. Oken has been able to avoid execution thanks to help from judges and politicians, ranging from the Maryland Court of Appeals to Democratic Gov. Parris Glendening, with his crassly political decision to institute a moratorium on executions two years ago, to Judge Messitte.

Unpleasant as death by lethal injection would be for Oken, it would most certainly be a far less violent, painful end than the final minutes of life were for Dawn Garvin, Patricia Hirt and Lori Ward. Steven Oken is a brutal killer who should have been executed many years ago. Unfortunately, the life of this violent sociopath has been unduly prolonged by judges and politicians who seem interested in things other than justice for his victims.

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