Mother Looks Toward Trial To 'Close' A Family Nightmare

Death Penalty Sought In Her Daughter's Killing

January 06, 1991|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff writer

Betty Romano gave up her job as a sales manager for Tupperware afterher daughter was killed three years ago.

After the slaying of 20-year-old Dawn Garvin, the Abingdon resident recalls, she feared for her own safety, refusing to go out at night alone.

"I know I put my life on hold," Romano said. "When my daughter was killed, I was afraid to go out any more. I stopped working."

Herlife and that of her husband, Frederick J. Romano, continued on holdas they awaited the trial of the accused killer, 28-year-old Steven H. Oken of White Marsh.

Those three years have been full of legal delays caused by the defendant's lawyers. The Romanos have found the wait agonizing.

"Three years is a long time to wait for justice," Romano said. "It's been devastating . . . waiting. I don't know how to explain."

But tomorrow the Romanos' wait comes to an end when the trial starts in Baltimore County Circuit Court. Oken is charged with first-degree murder.

"(The last three years) have been a nightmare," Betty Romano said. "My daughter has been gone for three years and (Oken) is still alive."

Garvin, a newlywed, was sexually assaulted and shot twice in the head on Nov. 1, 1987. Her nude body was found the next day in her White Marsh apartment by her father, police said.

Romano went to check on his daughter after her husband, Keith, who was in the Navy, could not reach her.

Garvin is one of three women Oken is accused of killing during a 16-day crime spree that police say stretched from Baltimore County to Maine.

Oken also faces asecond first-degree murder count for the Nov. 15, 1987, shooting death of his sister-in-law, Patricia A. Hirt of White Marsh. Her nude body was found in a ditch along White Marsh Boulevard near Interstate 95.

Oken will be tried on both first-degree murder charges next week. The trial, before Circuit Judge James T. Smith, is expected to last about three weeks.

Prosecutors said they will seek the death penalty in both cases.

Oken is already serving a life sentence in Maine for the Nov. 16, 1987, murder of a motel clerk. Oken pleaded guilty to first-degree murder after he was charged with shooting the 25-year-old woman once in the head.

Oken was charged with the Hirt and Garvin homicides after he was arrested for the murder in Maine. Oken stole Hirt's 1979 Ford Mustang and traveled to Maine the day after she was slain, police said.

While searching Oken's apartment after the Hirt killing, police found a Beretta .25-caliber automatic handgunthat matched the casings found at Garvin's apartment, court records show.

Romano said she, her husband and their 21-year-old son, a Marine, will attend most of the trial. Frederick Romano is expected to be one of the state's witnesses in the case.

The Romanos' son, Frederick A., will be on leave during most of the proceedings, but he may be sent to the Persian Gulf at the end of this month, Betty Romano said.

"He's all we have left," she said. "Believe me, it worries me."

Oken's trial for the Garvin and Hite killings has been delayedbecause of the Maine proceedings and motions by his defense attorneyto have the Baltimore County charges dismissed.

Oken's attorney, Benjamin Lipsitz of Pikesville, filed motions to dismiss the charges in April and again in July, saying that his client was improperly extradited from Maine.

However, the motions were denied by a Baltimore County Circuit Court judge.

The case was further delayed when Sinai Hospital of Baltimore refused to release its records on Oken's birth and adoption, according to court documents.

Baltimore County Circuit Court denied the hospital's motions to seal the records. But the hospital then appealed to the state Court of Special Appeals.

Lipsitz wanted the documents to examine Oken's mental state for the possibility of a psychiatric defense, court records say. The hospital has since withdrawn its appeal, and the records were turned over to Lipsitz.

Romano said she is looking to the trial to provide the "closure" that the family has not been able to feel since Garvin's homicide.

The Romanos have been aided by members of a support group theyformed two years ago for people who, like themselves, need help to handle the anguish and grief caused by the murder of a family member.

The group, called Families of Murdered Loved Ones, continues to meet monthly. About 30 people regularly attend the group's meetings, Romano said.

"Having this group, it just helps knowing you have someplace to go and express your feelings," Romano said. "These people understand how you feel."

Despite the help from the support group, Romano said she believes she and her family will never fully recover from her daughter's death.

"That pain and that anxiety is probablythere forever," she said. "I don't know whether it will ever be overfor us."

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