Oken ills blamed on his learning he was adopted

January 25, 1991|By Deborah I. Greene | Deborah I. Greene,Baltimore County Bureau of The Sun

Steven H. Oken's obsession with drugs and sex, which culminated in the brutal sex-slaying of a White Marsh newlywed, began when his parents told him as a young boy that he had been adopted at birth, his mother testified yesterday.

"He had a horrendous reaction. He just couldn't believe he wasn't our natural child," Davida Oken told jurors, who convicted Oken of murder last Friday and are now hearing testimony on whether he should be sentenced to death or life in prison.

Mrs. Oken said she and her husband decided reluctantly to tell young Steven -- the eldest of their three children -- that he was adopted because friends warned them that the effects of learning it from someone else could be devastating.

The 11-year-old boy screamed in disbelief for two hours when his parents told him they did not know his biological father and that his birth mother had given him away when he was 3 days old.

"We hugged him and kissed him and told him that we loved him . . . that we chose him because he was special -- and he is special," said Mrs. Oken, glancing down from the witness stand at her son, who stands convicted of the Nov. 1, 1987, murder of Dawn Marie Garvin, 20.

Mrs. Oken said young Steven became so forlorn that they sent him to a child psychologist, but the doctor said his behavior was not so unusual. She said she really became worried when she found marijuana and piles of sex magazines hidden in his room.

As a teen-ager, Oken swiped alcohol and beer from his family's liquor cabinet, Mrs. Oken said. He moved away from home at 21 but continued to work as a clerk in the family's East Baltimore pharmacy where, on one occasion, he stole a whole shipment of 500 tranquilizers. Mrs. Oken said her son's problems increased when the building in which the family pharmacy had been located for 45 years was sold by other relatives.

"His whole life he dreamed of working alone with his father in the pharmacy . . . and the dream just blew up," she said.

Oken then became increasingly preoccupied with sex and drugs and the violence that often accompanies them. His obsession caused him to drop out of college, jeopardized his job and left a yearlong marriage in state of disrepair in 1987.

Dr. Fred Berlin, director of the Johns Hopkins Sexual Disorders Clinic, said neither Oken's parents nor his wife could have known that his obsession would lead him to sexually assault and kill Dawn Garvin.

Oken also has been convicted of killing the clerk at a motel in Maine and faces trial here in the sex slaying of his sister-in-law.

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