Oken couldn't stop himself from acts, psychiatrist testifies

January 23, 1991|By Deborah I. Greene | Deborah I. Greene,Baltimore County Bureau of The Sun

Steven H. Oken knew that sexually assaulting and killing a White Marsh newlywed was wrong, but he couldn't stop himself because he suffers from a mental disorder characterized by fantasies of sadistic acts with women, a psychiatrist testified yesterday.

"It's my opinion that Mr. Oken suffers from a sexual-sadistic mental disorder," testified Dr. John R. Lyon, one of several doctors the defense called to buttress its claim that Oken is not criminally responsible by reason of insanity.

Dr. Lyon said he based his diagnosis partly on a list Oken compiled of items he planned to use in sexual attacks on women, as well as his habit of collecting photographs of naked women and cutting out parts of their bodies.

"He had recurring fantasies in which he would think about tying up, raping and humiliating women," said Dr. Lyon, who has examined Oken 18 times since July. "I've never seen a case with a full-fledged, sexual-sadistic disorder of this type."

Oken, 28, of White Marsh was convicted Friday in the Nov. 1, 1987, rape and murder of Dawn M. Garvin. Baltimore County Circuit Judge James T. Smith Jr. is now hearing testimony on whether Oken can be held criminally responsible for his acts.

For three years, Oken professed to have amnesia about the night Ms. Garvin was murdered. But last week he began to recall explicit details of sexually assaulting her and shooting her twice in the head.

Prosecutor S. Ann Bropst argued that Oken's sudden recollection was a ploy to place blame for his actions on a long, uncontrollable disorder.

"Prior to his conviction he had mentioned to no one about these sicko fantasies. He was going with the amnesia. But after he's convicted, he comes to," Mrs. Bropst said, challenging Dr. Lyon's diagnosis.

A New England psychologist, who had evaluated Oken in Maine before he was sentenced to life imprisonment for the sex-related slaying of a hotel clerk there, said he concluded that the convicted killer has never suffered from the rare sexual-sadistic disorder.

Dr. Neal McLean said Oken's "attempt to cover his tracks" -- by using a towel to muffle the sound of the gunshots, for example -- was evidence that he knew about the "wrongness" of his behavior.

"He clearly acted in a self-protected manner, which would not be present in someone who could not control his behavior," Dr. McLean testified for the prosecution.

Dr. Lyon said he had diagnosed Oken with the sexual-sadistic disorder in July, long before the White Marsh man admitted to the murder Sunday.

He explained that Oken's "horror and shame" for his crime made him block out the events of that night.

Oken's mother, Davida, also testified that her son has had problems, including drug use, since she told him at age 12 that he had been adopted.

Dr. Lyon's diagnosis was corroborated by Henry Payson, a psychiatrist who also evaluated Oken in Maine. Dr. Payson said he also concluded that Oken was unable to control his impulses, in part because of heavy drug use.

"He's obviously is a very sick man," Dr. Payson said. "He has a dreadful illness that is a great threat to our entire society. We need to know more about him, maybe study him for life."

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