Jury finds Oken guilty of murder of woman in 1987

January 19, 1991|By Deborah I. Greene | Deborah I. Greene,Baltimore County Bureau of The Sun

It took a Baltimore County jury about an hour -- including time out for lunch -- to find Steven H. Oken guilty yesterday of the November 1987 sexual assault and murder of a 20-year-old White Marsh newlywed.

Oken swiveled slightly in his chair, not looking up, as one juror after another pronounced him guilty of first-degree murder, sexual assault, burglary and using a handgun to kill Dawn M. Garvin.

The 28-year-old White Marsh man was acquitted on a charge of robbery that sprang from the alleged theft of two beers.

Oken could be sentenced to death if the same jury rejects his additional plea of being not criminally responsible by reason of insanity during a second phase of the trial set to begin Monday. At the defense's request, the issues of guilt and responsibility are being addressed separately.

Oken already has been sentenced to life in prison in Maine for killing a motel clerk there, and he faces another trial here this spring on charges of murdering his sister-in-law, Patricia A. Hirt.

He remained stoic throughout five days of testimony and evidence against him presented by prosecutors S. Ann Bropst and Scott Shellenberger.

The evidence included a .25-caliber semiautomatic pistol found in Oken's dresser drawer that the FBI concluded was used to shoot Mrs. Garvin and a strip of rubber from her apartment that matched his tennis shoe.

Several residents who lived near Ms. Garvin's apartment building also testified that Oken had confronted them and using a number of ruses in an attempt to stop them in their cars or get into their homes.

"Looks are deceiving. . . . It's the monster within that counts," Mr. Shellenberger told the jury during closing arguments, as he pointed across the room to Oken.

"He fooled Dawn Garvin, and for that she paid for it with her life. Don't let him fool you into believing that he's not the person who committed this crime," he said.

The prosecutor warned the jury not to be swayed by attempts by Oken's attorney, Benjamin Lipsitz, to distract them from the evidence against Oken.

Mr. Lipsitz sought to introduce doubt into jurors' minds by noting that police initially had questioned another suspect and arguing that prosecutors had no conclusive evidence to place Oken in Ms. Garvin's apartment the night of the murder.

Even if Oken had killed Ms. Garvin on Nov. 1, 1987, his addiction to alcohol and drugs affected his actions and rendered him unconscious of any memory of that night, Mr. Lipsitz suggested.

In the final hours of defense, the attorney called Oken's ex-wife and parents to testify about a man with a troubled past who abused alcohol and drugs that he stole from an East Baltimore pharmacy his family once owned.

Phyllis J. Hirt could barely look at the man she recently divorced as she testified in a crackled voice about his erratic behavior the week leading up to the murder.

"He was very argumentative," she said. "Things would be normal one day, and the next day we would be fighting."

Ms. Hirt was out of town when her sister, Patricia, and Ms. Garvin were slain.

Davida Oken said that her son had an drug problem and that the family had attempted to enroll him in a treatment center.

Oken failed to keep the appointment, she said.

In the pharmacy, she said, "He would play around the drugs like they were candy, popping them out and putting them in his pocket. When I asked him what he was doing, he would say he just needed one to get to sleep."

Mrs. Oken said her son also had a drinking problem. She recalled that on Nov. 2, 1987, the day after Ms. Garvin was killed, he failed to open up the pharmacy on time -- having slept the morning away in a drunken stupor.

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