- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 23, 2003

BALTIMORE (AP) Baltimore County prosecutors likely will seek a death warrant for convicted killer Steven Oken on Monday in what could be the state's first execution in nearly five years and the first capital case under Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.
Baltimore County Circuit Court Judge John G. Turnbull II has indicated he will sign the warrant, according to county prosecutor Ann Brobst. Oken would be scheduled to die by injection the week of March 17.
Maryland's moratorium on executions effectively ended when Mr. Ehrlich took office Jan. 15. The governor has said he will review each case as it comes to him for clemency, and Oken's likely will be the first.
Oken, 40, was sentenced to death in 1991 for the sexual assault and murder of a 20-year-old White Marsh newlywed in 1987.
"We knew that there was a substantial possibility that the warrant would be signed as soon as Governor Ehrlich took office," said Fred W. Bennett, Oken's attorney.
Former Gov. Parris N. Glendening halted executions in May, saying it was necessary to give lawmakers the chance to analyze the results of a two-year University of Maryland study on the use of the state's death penalty.
Mr. Ehrlich opposed the moratorium throughout his campaign, saying a panel headed by Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele will review each case.
"Consider the moratorium lifted," said Shareese Deleaver, a spokeswoman for Mr. Ehrlich.
Baltimore County State's Attorney Sandra A. O'Connor said her office would have asked Judge Turnbull to sign the warrant last May. "We've been on hold since the moratorium," she said. The judge indicated he would have signed it.
But even with Mr. Ehrlich in office and the warrant promised within the next week, Miss O'Connor said it was not certain that Oken's execution would go forward in seven weeks.
Mr. Bennett said he will file motions in Baltimore County Circuit Court challenging the state's death statute in an attempt to halt his client's execution. He said at least one of those motions is based on the University of Maryland study, which found "systemic disparities" in the state's use of the death penalty.
That study, released this month, found that defendants who kill whites are significantly more likely to receive a death sentence than killers of nonwhites. It also found that jurisdiction greatly affects a defendant's chances of ending up on death row.
Of the 12 men awaiting execution in Maryland, nine, including Oken, are from Baltimore County. Eight are black, and all were convicted of killing whites. Oken is white, as was his victim.
Because of his race, and because his crimes were so brutal in addition to the killing of Dawn Marie Garvin, for which he received the death sentence, Oken was convicted of murdering his sister-in-law and a college student Oken has become something of a rallying point for death-penalty supporters.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. often has referred to Oken when defending the state's death-penalty statute.
Yesterday, moratorium advocates said it was not surprising that Miss O'Connor was pushing Oken's case as the first one likely to reach Mr. Ehrlich's desk.
"In many ways, this just shows the politics that drives this issue," said Jane Henderson of the Quixote Center, a faith-based organization that has fought to abolish the death penalty. "His case obscures the issues of systemic bias that we've been trying to focus on."
But Miss O'Connor said her reasoning was simple.
Oken is the only Baltimore County death-row inmate who has exhausted all of his appeals, she said, and is therefore the only defendant for whom they can reasonably seek a death warrant.

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