- The Washington Times - Monday, November 17, 2003

ANNAPOLIS — A divided Maryland Court of Appeals upheld the death sentence yesterday for Steven Oken, who was only a month from being executed in March when his sentenced was stayed by the court, which is the state’s highest.

Oken was convicted of the 1987 slaying of a 20-year-old newlywed, Dawn Marie Garvin. She was the first of three women he was convicted of killing in Maryland and Maine.

Yesterday’s ruling came in Oken’s fourth appeal to the state’s highest court and was the second time his sentence was upheld by a 4-3 vote.

“We are tremendously disappointed to lose for the second time by one vote,” Michael Lawlor, one of Oken’s attorneys, said. He said an appeal of the Court of Appeals decision will be filed with the U.S. Supreme Court within the next 90 days.

“Beyond that, we haven’t really had time to talk or reflect or even fully review the decision,” Mr. Lawlor said.

Fred Romano, Mrs. Garvin’s brother, said Oken deserves to die “because he raped and murdered my sister.”

“Of course, I would like to jump up and down and cry and holler, but to do it would be premature,” he said. “You never know what’s going to happen.”

Oken is one of 10 men under a death sentence in Maryland.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. declined to answer questions about the ruling as he left the State House for an event in Baltimore, but Greg Massoni, his press secretary, said he didn’t think the governor’s position had changed since last spring when it appeared gubernatorial clemency was Oken’s only hope of avoiding execution by injection.

At the time, Paul Schurick, Mr. Ehrlich’s communications director, said it was likely the governor would reject a clemency plea and allow the execution to take place.

Oken’s appeal involved Maryland’s use of aggravating factors, which weigh in favor of a death sentence, and mitigating factors, which weigh against a death sentence. His attorneys argued that the state statute was unconstitutional under a Supreme Court ruling last year in Ring v. Arizona.

A minority opinion by Judge Irma Raker agreed, saying the state sentencing procedure violated Oken’s rights under both the federal and state constitutions.

But the majority ruling by Judge Glenn Harrell held that the Supreme Court’s Ring opinion “bears no adverse implications for the Maryland death penalty statute.”

Oken was convicted of murdering three women in 1987. Two weeks after killing Mrs. Garvin, he sexually assaulted and murdered his sister-in-law, Patricia Hirt, in Maryland. He then traveled to Maine, where he killed Lori Ward, a motel clerk. He was sentenced to life in prison for those slayings.

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