Trial Grueling Experience For Parents Of Slain Woman

Details Of Murder Are Revealed In Court

February 10, 1991|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff writer

When Betty Romano wants to be alone to reminisce about her slain daughter, Dawn, she sits alone in the young woman's former bedroom.

Romano says counselors have told her that one way to recover from her grief of nearly four years is to pack away the bed set, collection ofstuffed animals and photographs that adorn the bedroom in their Abingdon home.

But Romano said she isn't ready to do that.

"I think the only way it will come down is if I have to move," Romano says. "I can't doit."

Romano's 20-year-old daughter, Dawn M. Garvin, a newlywed, was sexually assaulted and shot in the head on Nov. 1, 1987. Her nude body was found the next day in her White Marsh apartment by her father.

The killer, Steven H. Oken of White Marsh, was sentenced to death by a jury Jan. 25 following his conviction of first-degree murder in Baltimore Circuit Court.

Oken is already serving a life setencein Maine for the murder of a motel clerk. Oken also is to stand trial for the murder of his sister-in-law, Patricia A. Hirt of White Marsh.

Romano, 44, and her husband, Frederick J. Romano, 47, talked about their ordeal of the three-week trial during a meeting Monday night of Families of Murdered Loved Ones, a support group the couple founded after Garvin's slaying.

"I'm glad it's over," Frederick Romanotold the group. "I'm glad that we've come to a closure. But it doesn't stop here."

The trial was a grueling experience for the family,including their 21-year-old son, Frederick A. Romano, particularly when the grisly details of Garvin's murder were revealed in court, said Betty Romano.

"Now we have to learn to cope with what we learned," she said. "I wish we never heard it."

During the trial, testimony showed that Oken approached Garvin while she was walking her dog and tricked her into letting him use the telephone in her apartment.

After forcing Garvin to beg for her life and perform sexual acts, Oken shot the woman twice in the head, according to testimony.

Betty Romano noted during the support group meeting that her family stillhas many hurdles to overcome -- particularly as Oken's appeals of his conviction and death sentence proceed through the courts.

But she said the comfort she has received from relatives, friends, counselors and members of the support group is helping her cope with the anger and bitterness she feels toward Oken.

"After waiting 38 months for this trial, I feel it's our turn to get back a little bit," she said. "We had to hold a lot of feelings in for 38 months."

Romano said she and her husband are willing to be the ones to "push the button" when Oken goes into the gas chamber, if his death sentence still stands after his appeals have been exhausted.

Romano noted that it might be many years before Oken is executed. The 28-year-old man is the 14th convict on Maryland's death row.

"Whether or not he ever dies, we have to wait and see," Romano said. "If it comes to that, Fredand I would like to be ones to push the button. That's the way we feel."

Romano praised Baltimore County's Victim-Witness Unit, which assisted her and her husband during the trial and will provide them with free counseling.

The Baltimore County State's Attorney's Office started the counseling program last October with a $40,000 federal grant, said Sandra Stolker, director of the county's victim-witness program.

Romano said she hopes to establish a similar program in Harford.

Some private counselors charge as much as $250 for a one-hour session, and the entire fee is not always covered by many health insurance programs, Romano noted.

"(Counseling) is something we deserve as surviving victims," Betty Romano said. "I do believe everybody needs counseling when they are a victim."

Stolker said it is notunusual for people like the Romanos to need counseling after a trialbecause the testimony often intensifies the grief they have felt since the homicide.

"The Romanos have just completed a tremendous ordeal," Stolker said. "All of those feelings were brought back to the surface because of the trial."

Romano said she does not believe that her grief and bitterness are uncommon.

During the support group's meeting Monday, Romano introduced a Baltimore County woman whose brother was murdered in 1981. The woman was attending the support groupmeeting for the first time.

"Even though it was 10 years ago, (the woman) said it still feels like it was yesterday," Romano said. "What I'm feeling is OK."

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