Oken case delayed for insanity defense

January 21, 1991|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Evening Sun Staff

A Baltimore County Circuit Court hearing on whether convicted murderer Steven H. Oken is sane and criminally responsible for his actions was postponed until tomorrow.

The second stage of the murder trial, which had been scheduled to begin today, was postponed by Judge James Smith at the request of defense attorney Benjamin Lipsitz, who said he needed time to prepare for the insanity defense.

Beginning tomorrow, Lipsitz is planning to call several psychiatrists and other witnesses to try to prove that Oken, 29, formerly of White Marsh, was insane at the time of the Nov. 2, 1987, slaying of Dawn Marie Garvin.

Garvin had been sexually assaulted with a glass bottle and shot twice in the head at close range.

Oken, who sat quietly Friday as the jury of seven men and five women pronounced him guilty of the murder of Garvin, 20, today decided against having the same jury decide the insanity issue. Instead, Oken has asked that Smith rule on the matter.

If the insanity defense is rejected, Oken faces a possible death sentence.

He already is serving a life sentence without possibility of parole for the sexual assault and murder of Lori Ward, a motel clerk in Kittery, Maine.

And later this year, Oken faces another murder trial in Baltimore County in connection with the slaying of Patricia A. Hirt, 43, his sister-in-law.

The court got a hint of the insanity defense Friday as Lipsitz called Oken's parents and former wife, who each testified about the defendant's alcoholism and drug use in the weeks leading up to the Garvin murder.

Phyllis Hirt, whose marriage to the defendant officially ended in divorce last month, described a man who drank wine and vodka often and took various pills.

Once, she said, she found pills in his pants pockets while doing the laundry. Another time, she said, she poured a case of wine down the kitchen sink to prevent him from drinking it. Yet another time, Phyllis Hirt said, she hid a bottle of prescription tranquilizers from Oken.

"Things would be normal one day," she said, "and then we would be fighting."

David and Davida Oken, the defendant's parents, described the erratic behavior of their son and his past problems with alcohol and drugs.

David Oken, a pharmacist who ran the family pharmacy near Johns Hopkins Hospital, told the court that prescription tranquilizers had been missing from the store and that he suspected his son had taken them, but could not prove it.

The father also said his son, who worked at the pharmacy, had keys to the store.

"So he could come and go whenever he wanted?" Lipsitz asked.

"Yes," answered David Oken.

Davida Oken testified that she had tried to enroll her son in an alcohol treatment program run by Hopkins, but that he refused.

She said his behavior was erratic and he would often be late for work, or not show up at all, including the morning of Nov. 2, 1987, when he was supposed to open the store but failed to do so.

That morning, Davida Oken said, the parents had to call him and wake him. When he came to work, he "just reeked of alcohol," she said.

"He seemed to be going downhill," the mother said. "We talked to him and told him he needed help."

Her son had problems with alcoholism in 1985, Davida Oken said, and the family got him to see a psychiatrist, who seemed to help him.

In the six days of testimony during the trial, prosecutors S. Ann Brobst and Scott D. Shellenberger presented an array of circumstantial evidence that convinced the jury that Steven Oken had committed the murder.

There was the murder weapon, a .25-caliber semiautomatic pistol found in the defendant's home. A firearms expert said the shell casings found next to the victim were fired from Steven Oken's gun.

And a small rubber strip found next to Garvin's television set came from one of Steven Oken's tennis shoes, an FBI expert testified.

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