Oken withdraws insanity claim, pleads guilty to 3rd sex slaying

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

Convicted killer Steven H. Oken withdrew his claim of insanity yesterday and pleaded guilty in Baltimore County Circuit Court to murdering his sister-in-law, one of three victims in a 1987 spree of sex slayings.

Oken, 29, offered no words of remorse as he confessed to killing his wife's 43-year-old sister, Patricia A. Hirt, on Nov. 15, 1987, just two weeks after murdering and sexually assaulting a young woman in her White Marsh apartment.

A statement of facts presented in court said Ms. Hirt went to the Okens' house in White Marsh that afternoon to return a camera she had borrowed to take pictures of her daughter's graduation.

Ms. Hirt's sister, Phyllis, was away on a business trip, but she found a note on the door from her brother-in-law that read: "Pat, come in. I'm in the shower."

Once Ms. Hirt was inside, Oken attacked her, ripping her clothes off, raping her and beating her so severely that he knocked a tooth from her mouth and left her blood splattered throughout the house.

After the assault, Oken strangled Ms. Hirt, shot her in the head with a .38-caliber handgun and drove her car into a drainage ditch off White Marsh Boulevard, where he dumped her body.

He placed one of her tennis shoes on the body. The other was found later at Oken's house, which police searched after Ms. Hirt's father reported her missing.

The discovery of Ms. Hirt's body so close to the scene of the murder of 20-year-old White Marsh newlywed Dawn Marie Garvin led police to suspect Oken in both slayings, said prosecutor S. Ann Brobst.

He fled to Maine in his sister-in-law's car and, in an attempt to throw police off of his tracks, left behind a note for his wife that read: "I killed your sister, now I kill your husband," according to Ms. Brobst.

Once in Maine, Oken killed a motel clerk in the same manner with which he had murdered the two Maryland women. Police captured him a short time later and found in the car the gun he used to kill Ms. Hirt. The gun was speckled with her dried blood, Ms. Brobst said.

Charged with the murders of three women, Oken claimed he was not criminally responsible by reason of insanity and contended he suffered from a sexual mental disorder and substance abuse.

Yesterday, Circuit Judge James T. Smith Jr. asked Oken whether he was pleading guilty because he was, in fact, guilty.

Oken paused briefly, then stuttered, "Yes."

The judge imposed a sentence of life imprisonment and dropped lesser charges of sexual assault and weapon violations.

Ms. Brobst and fellow prosecutor Scott Shellenberger withdrew their petition for the death penalty in the Hirt murder. Oken already has received a death sentence for the Garvin murder, and there is a mandatory appeal.

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