The toll of bitterness

January 29, 1991

The trial of Stephen H. Oken ended last week with the passing of the sentence that he must die in the gas chamber for the murder of Dawn Marie Garvin, a young woman Oken had tricked into letting him into her apartment on the pretense of his need to make an urgent telephone call. Whether one believes in the death penalty or not, no one can quarrel with Judge James T. Smith's searing portrayal of Oken -- who had already committed at least one other murder and awaits trial for yet another -- as "a very evil and dangerous man."

Trials like this inevitably are anguishing experiences for the families of both victim and accused, who in this case were both in their 20s. But this particular trial ended amid an extraordinary outpouring of emotion and bitter recrimination. The depth of the rancor was captured in the spontaneous outburst of Dawn Marie Garvin's mother, who said, speaking of the mother of Stephen Oken, "I can't wait until she can go see her child in the cemetery. . . . Only then will she know what it's like to be a victim -- when he's gassed and they don't have him anymore."

No parent can fail to empathize with the inconsolable grief of a mother who has lost a precious, innocent child in so cruel and senseless a manner. But even sadder is the fact that the emotional catastrophe runs so deep that one innocent mother would publicly express the wish that her pain be inflicted on yet another innocent mother -- no matter how despicable the deed of the real guilty party.

Yes, every mother or father can understand the burning rage, even the desire for revenge, that such tragic cases as this engender. But let us not lose hope that the day will come when every person who has suffered such grievous deprivation will finally come to grasp the irrefutable truth that unresolved bitterness does not alleviate the terrible loss; it only intensifies it.

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