- The Washington Times - Monday, May 31, 2004

For doctrinaire opponents of capital punishment like Amnesty International and Maryland Attorney General Joseph Curran, condemned murderer Steven Oken is a public-relations nightmare. They can’t play the race card or the poverty card, because Oken is white and his family well-to-do. And there is no question that he committed the crimes for which he is scheduled to be executed the week of June 13: the 1987 rape-murder of newlywed Dawn Marie Garvin. Still, given the fact that this case has been permitted to linger in the courts since Oken’s 1991 conviction and death sentence, there is good reason to be suspect that he will not be executed this month.

The facts of Oken’s crimes are clear and uncontested: On the evening of Nov. 1, 1987, Oken raped and shot to death newlywed Dawn Marie Garvin in her apartment in White Marsh, Md. Mrs. Garvin, whose husband was stationed at a Navy base in Virginia, had allowed Oken into her apartment after he asked to use the telephone. Then, on Nov. 16, Oken raped and murdered his own sister-in-law, Patricia Hirt. He then drove to Kittery, Maine, where the following day, he raped and murdered a third woman — a hotel clerk named Lori Ward.

In his recent efforts to escape execution, Oken has had plenty of help. In 2001, the Maryland Court of Appeals halted executions for eight months on the novel legal theory that a Supreme Court decision overturning a New Jersey hate-crimes law might somehow apply to the Maryland death-penalty statute. The following year, then-Gov. Parris Glendening imposed a moratorium on executions. Shortly after Gov. Robert Ehrlich ended the moratorium last January, the Court of Appeals postponed Oken’s execution again. The announcement came less than two weeks after Mr. Curran stood in front of the State House in Annapolis and denounced the death penalty, saying there is too great a possibility that an innocent person could be executed.

Now, Oken has filed suit challenging Maryland’s use of lethal injection. Mr. Curran’s office is charged with responsibility for defending the state’s position on appeal. But, given Mr. Curran’s opposition to capital punishment, his office cannot credibly represent the people in the Oken case. If Oken evades execution this month, Marylanders need to ask themselves: Does the fact that Mr. Curran opposes the death penalty have any relevance to the fact that triple murderer Steven Oken repeatedly emerges as the court victor?

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