- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 9, 2004

Maryland’s highest court yesterday rejected a request to delay the execution of condemned killer Steven Oken, who is scheduled to become the first person executed in the state since a moratorium on the death penalty was lifted last year.

The Maryland Court of Appeals denied the request by a vote of 6-to-1, which means the execution could be carried out next week. Under Maryland law, an execution date is not made public, but can be carried out at any time during a five-day period that begins Monday.

Oken’s attorney, Fred Warren Bennett, had argued Tuesday that the injection of a three-drug mixture that prison officials plan to use to execute Oken violates state law and inflicts unnecessary pain and suffering. He asked that the execution be postponed indefinitely.

The ruling issued yesterday by Judge Irma S. Raker said the method of execution “does not violate the provisions of Maryland code … or constitute a cruel or unusual punishment as argued by the petitioner.”

Mr. Bennett said he will pursue an appeal in the U.S. Supreme Court and file a motion for a stay today.

Oken, 42, is scheduled to be put to death for killing Dawn Marie Garvin, a 20-year-old college student and newlywed, whom he sexually tortured and shot after talking his way into her White Marsh, Md., apartment in late 1987.

He shot her twice in the head before leaving the apartment. Her father discovered her body.

Fred Romano, Mrs. Garvin’s brother, told the Associated Press yesterday that his family is “pleased with the decision.”

“We are ready to move on with it and get it over with,” Mr. Romano said. “We are hoping this is it. We are pretty confident that the federal court isn’t going to intervene.”

The court’s decision comes several hours after leaders of the Catholic Church in the region petitioned Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to spare Oken’s life.

The letter — signed by Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, archbishop of Washington; Cardinal William H. Keeler, archbishop of Baltimore; and the Most Rev. Michael A. Saltarelli, bishop of Wilmington, Del. — restated the Catholic Church’s opposition to the death penalty.

But church leaders also said carrying out the sentence would stifle consideration of the studies conducted on the fairness of the distribution of the death penalty in the state.

“This is a bad case. We know this is a bad case because he had done these things,” Cardinal McCarrick said. “But once you say, ‘OK, we’re going to kill him,’ then the moratorium is over, and how many others are going to be put to death before we really look at this again, as we should, in a way that will allow the study to be made as carefully as the governor and everybody would like it to be.”

Former Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat, ordered the moratorium in May 2002 and commissioned a University of Maryland report on the fairness of the distribution of the death penalty in the state.

The report, issued in January 2003, concluded that prosecutors are more likely to seek the death penalty for cases in which blacks are accused of killing whites. However, blacks were not more likely to be sentenced to death when they committed crimes other than killing whites.

The study also found that the decisions made by state’s attorneys on whether to pursue the death penalty varied widely among counties.

But Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, lifted the moratorium after he took office in January 2003, promising to review each application of the death penalty on a case-by-case basis.

Mr. Ehrlich’s legal counsel, Jervis S. Finney, said the governor received a request for clemency from Oken’s attorneys on May 20 and is considering it.

“The governor has received various previous briefings from his counsel on this matter, is monitoring the current court proceedings, will receive a final briefing and has the ultimate issue under full and objective consideration for his decision,” Mr. Finney said.

Oken also was convicted of murdering his sister-in-law, Patricia A. Hirt, 43, in Maryland, nearly two weeks after he killed Mrs. Garvin. Oken raped, beat and killed Mrs. Hirt, who had gone to his home to return a camera. Oken dumped Mrs. Hirt’s naked body in a drainage ditch as he drove north in her Mustang.

Two days later in Maine, Oken raped and killed Lori Ward, 25, a clerk on duty the afternoon he checked into a motel there.

Oken was arrested and sentenced to life without parole in Maine for Miss Ward’s killing. He received the same sentence in Maryland for Mrs. Hirt’s killing, but received the death penalty in Mrs. Garvin’s case.

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