Oken is held criminally liable in sexual slaying

January 24, 1991|By Deborah I. Greene | Deborah I. Greene,Baltimore County Bureau of The Sun

Steven H. Oken, who was convicted last week in the sexual assault and slaying of a 20-year-old White Marsh newlywed, failed yesterday to persuade a Baltimore County judge that he was insane at the time of the murder.

Circuit Judge James T. Smith Jr. said that Oken was criminally responsible for Dawn Garvin's death and, furthermore, that he did not suffer from amnesia or a rare sexual-sadistic mental disorder as doctors had testified.

The judge made his decision based on discrepancies in Oken's defense, including the 28-year-old White Marsh man's recent and explicit recollection of attacking Ms. Garvin -- after professing amnesia for three years.

"I believe the defendant is a sexual misfit and a deviant," Judge Smith said. "But I'm not persuaded that he suffers from sexual sadism to the dimension indicated by the experts."

"He thought that it was in his best interest not to mention any involvement in the Garvin matter, that is until the overwhelming evidence against him was presented in this court," Judge Smith said.

"I believe the defendant has manipulated witnesses, his lawyer and the circumstances to his own advantage," the judge said.

After the ruling, Oken asked if he could have until today to decide whether Judge Smith or the jury that convicted him of murder should impose his sentence, either the death penalty or life in prison.

Oken already has received a life sentence in Maine for the slaying of a motel clerk there. He still faces trial here in the slaying of his sister-in-law, Patricia A. Hirt.

His lawyer, Benjamin Lipsitz, argued that his client should be committed to a hospital for the criminally insane. Several defense psychiatrists testified that Oken suffered from a mental disorder that caused him to act out sadistic sexual fantasies.

Mr. Lipsitz said Oken's problems could be traced to rejection by his natural mother. The Oken family adopted him at birth.

Prosecutor S. Ann Brobst agreed that Oken is a "sick individual," but said he was not insane on Nov. 1, 1987, when he sexually assaulted Ms. Garvin in her apartment.

"After he did all those horrible things to her, he took a gun and shot her twice in the head. He didn't get sexual pleasure from that, that was the execution of a witness," Ms. Brobst told the judge.

She argued that Oken knew exactly what he was doing during a 3 1/2 -week spree of sex crimes that included the killing of Ms. Garvin, Ms. Hirt and the night clerk at the motel in Maine where he stayed after fleeing Maryland.

Ms. Brobst noted, for instance, that Oken was astute enough to steal credit card slips in his name to avoid getting captured in Maine.

"He a very cagey individual, a pretty good criminal when it comes to apprehension," she said.

Christiane Tellefsen, a psychiatrist who evaluated Oken at Clifton T. Perkins Hospital, testified that he had a "narcissistic character: very little empathy for his fellow man and a feeling that the world revolves around him."

She said Oken showed no remorse for having killed three women and was uncooperative with doctors. While professing not to remember the murders, Oken also told doctors that his lawyer had advised him not to talk about them.

"Generally," Ms. Tellefsen said, "when someone pleads insanity they're saying, 'I did it, but I was crazy at the time. Let me tell you about how crazy I was.' "

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