Md. Appeals Court turns down new trial for serial killer Oken in death sentence Ruling upholds judge on informing of jurors

June 14, 1996|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

The state's highest court denied serial killer Steven Howard Oken's request for a new trial, ruling yesterday that the Baltimore County jury that sentenced him to death in 1991 was properly selected and sufficiently informed.

The Court of Appeals rejected claims by Oken -- convicted of killing three women in 1987 -- that Circuit Judge James T. Smith Jr. failed to sufficiently question the jury members about their sentiments regarding the death penalty.

Oken also argued that Smith should have told jurors that he already was serving life without parole for a slaying in Kittery, Maine, before they sentenced him to die Jan. 25, 1991.

The Appeals Court agreed with Baltimore County Circuit Judge Dana M. Levitz's May 5, 1994, ruling that jurors were sufficiently informed about Oken's status and questioned before the trial for fairness.

"Although better questions could have been asked, these questions were adequate to identify those jurors with any bias," Judge Irma S. Raker wrote for a 6-1 majority.

Judge Robert M. Bell wrote in a 21-page dissent that the jury selection process left too many unanswered questions.

"What biases a juror may or may not have, under the circumstances, could only be the subject of speculation," Bell wrote.

Assistant Attorney General Ann N. Bosse declined to comment, but said Oken may pursue appeals in the federal courts.

Oken was sentenced to death in the slaying of Dawn Marie Garvin, a young White Marsh newlywed found sexually assaulted and shot twice in the head Nov. 2, 1987. He already was serving life without parole for killing Lori Ward, a desk clerk at the Maine hotel where he fled after Garvin's death.

After being given the death penalty, he pleaded guilty in Maryland to sexually assaulting and murdering his sister-in-law, Patricia Hirt.

Betty Romano, Garvin's mother, expressed relief at the Appeals Court ruling but frustration that the process is taking so long.

She said prosecutors told her in 1991 that it would be at least 12 years before Oken was executed.

"My daughter's been gone almost nine years, and he's still living off of the taxpayers," Romano said. "All these appeals are just unbelievable."

In an initial round of appeals in 1992, the Court of Appeals affirmed Oken's death sentence. The U.S. Supreme Court denied a review in 1993.

But under Maryland law, Oken was entitled to a post-conviction hearing.

The next Maryland inmate scheduled to be executed is Flint Gregory Hunt, who was sentenced to death for the Nov. 18, 1985, killing of Baltimore police Officer Vincent J. Adolfo.

Hunt was scheduled to be executed this week. But the Court of Appeals last month delayed his execution until at least September so it could hear additional arguments.

Pub Date: 6/14/96

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