- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 6, 2004

BALTIMORE — If convicted triple murderer Steven Oken is executed as scheduled this month, he’ll die by lethal injection, strapped to a blue padded bench supported by a thick pole that is bolted to the floor in front of the state’s old gas chamber.

State corrections officials opened Maryland’s execution area over the weekend to allow reporters to see the gray-walled room that was last used in 1998. The room, which is about 300 square feet, is in the hospital of the Metropolitan Transition Center, across the street from the Supermax prison in Baltimore where Maryland’s eight death-row inmates are confined.

Oken will walk into the room from an adjacent holding cell, where he could be confined for days before the execution. He will be fastened to the bench with leather straps — two for each arm, one for each leg — by corrections officers. Three more restraints are used over the middle of the body.

After he is secured, a white curtain will be drawn open, allowing as many as 12 witnesses to observe the execution, said Mark Vernarelli, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services who led the tour.

“Maintain dignity, eliminate spectacle — those are our two goals,” Mr. Vernarelli said.

Witnesses, who will include four journalists, members of the victims’ families and officials, are seated on three rows of rising wooden benches in a small adjacent room with cinderblock walls. They will watch through one-way windows.

In the room with Oken will be one officer who will supervise as the injection is delivered by intravenous lines from another room. A person behind a one-way window administers the injection and can’t be seen.

The lethal combination of drugs first puts the condemned to sleep, then paralyzes the breathing muscles and stops the heart, with the whole procedure taking about seven minutes, according to the department of correction’s Web site.

A monitor enables additional officers to keep an eye on the proceedings. “Everyone involved in the process is specially trained,” said Gary Hornbaker, warden of the transition center.

A spiritual adviser may also be present in the room with Oken.

Oken is scheduled to die next week for the 1987 rape and murder of Dawn Marie Garvin, a 20-year-old Baltimore County woman. She was the first of three women Oken was convicted of killing in Maryland and Maine in 1987.

His attorney, Fred Warren Bennett, is asking the state’s highest court to delay execution so he would have time to challenge the use of lethal injections to carry out death sentences.

The request alleges that “due to the insufficiency of the execution protocols and training of execution team members, the killing of Steven Oken will amount to little more than torture.” Oken’s attorneys say that the method of execution inflicts unnecessary pain and suffering.

The state’s first execution by lethal injection was in 1994. The gas chamber, which is too large to be removed and is now covered with a white curtain, was last used in 1961.

There have been three Maryland executions in the past 32 years, said Mr. Vernarelli, and none since Tyrone X. Gilliam’s in 1998.

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