Lawyer attacks evidence linking Oken to slaying

January 18, 1991|By Deborah I. Greene | Deborah I. Greene,Baltimore County Bureau of The Sun

There is no conclusive evidence to place Steven H. Oken in the apartment of a White Marsh woman he is accused of murdering -- not even a strip of rubber that prosecutors say matched his tennis shoe, a defense lawyer argued yesterday.

Attorney Benjamin Lipsitz questioned whether the strip of rubber actually came from Oken's shoe, challenged other evidence and offered the possibility of another suspect in the Nov. 1, 1987, murder and sexual assault of Dawn M. Garvin, 20.

"This jury is being asked to speculate beyond the realm of reason," he told Baltimore County Circuit Judge James T. Smith Jr., in an attempt to get Oken, 30, of White Marsh acquitted for lack of evidence midway in the trial.

But his argument only succeeded in persuading the state to drop a number of lesser charges, including daytime housebreaking, a second-degree sex offense and an attempted sex offense. Oken also is charged with first-degree murder, rape and robbery.

Mr. Lipsitz said the state has not presented any evidence of body fluids to prove that Oken raped Ms. Garvin.

"Even if a jury did find from this evidence that Oken killed Ms. Garvin there is no evidence to say that he assaulted her sexually," he argued. "There's no blood, direct eyewitness or anything to place Oken at the scene."

FBI agent William Heilman, an expert in torn-edge comparisons, testified previously that the piece of rubber had, at one time, been a part of the sole of Oken's tennis shoe.

But after Mr. Lipsitz grilled him on the witness stand for more than hour, Mr. Heilman admitted that his experiments on the shoe were not without fault. The rubber was not an exact fit, merely a "close" match.

Someone else may have caused her death, Mr. Lipsitz suggested, as he introduced testimony from several police officers who had briefly investigated a Perry Hall man in connection with the slaying.

Acting on a tip, police had questioned a pizza delivery man who had been in the apartment complex where Mrs. Garvin lived on the night she was killed.

But police ruled out the man as the suspect because his physical description did not match that of another suspicious visitor to the complex that night, a man several witnesses later identified as Oken.

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