Criminals get attention

their crimes are ignored

April 28, 2004|By GREGORY KANE

FREDERICK Anthony Romano, who prefers to be known simply as "Fred," isn't getting his hopes up.

Romano reacted yesterday to the news that Steven Howard Oken is scheduled for yet another appointment with Maryland's lethal injection table. Oken's appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was turned down Monday, and Baltimore County Circuit Judge John G. Turnbull II signed the death warrant for the week of June 14.

In 1991, Oken was sentenced to death for torturing and killing Romano's sister, Dawn Marie Garvin, a 20-year-old newlywed. If Oken is executed, it will end a 17-year ordeal for Romano and his parents, Frederick Joseph Romano and Betty Romano, and the victim's husband, Keith Garvin.

Twice before, a judge has signed a death warrant for Oken, and both times a stay of execution was ordered pending an appeal. That's why Fred Romano isn't optimistic that Oken will be on that table in mid-June.

"I remain skeptical," he said yesterday. "Anything could happen. This is the third time. Maybe the third time's the charm. But I'm being very cautious."

As well he should be. The endless appeals aside - and defense attorneys have to argue those appeals if they're doing their jobs properly - there's this veritable love affair America, inspired by death penalty opponents, has with death row inmates. I asked Romano if he feels some folks in this country glorify death row inmates.

"Yes, I do," he replied. "Absolutely. They worry too much about the inmates - what they feel, how they live - instead of the people they viciously murdered."

Exhibit A in the "death row inmate" mania would be one Mumia Abu-Jamal, whose case gave new life to the anti-death penalty movement.

In December 1981, Abu-Jamal executed Philadelphia police Officer Daniel Faulkner on the streets of that city. There was enough evidence to convict Abu-Jamal several times over. It included eyewitnesses and Abu Jamal's admission in the hospital where he was taken after being wounded in the incident.

Abu-Jamal was sentenced to death as the cop-killer he is. But what was the result? A campaign by the American left to portray him as the victim of a racist criminal justice system. Even the French got in on the act. They've been maligned - and wrongly so - for their stand on the war in Iraq. But every American should be boiling that the French have elevated the unrepentant cop-killer Abu-Jamal to cult-hero status.

Some of Abu-Jamal's supporters were liberal Hollywood types. It's a wonder they haven't done a movie about him yet. But they have done one about Stanley "Tookie" Williams, a convicted murderer on California's death row who is also given credit for starting the Crips street gang.

The movie, called Redemption, starred Jamie Foxx and was filled with sympathy for Williams.

Little was said about the victims of his crime. Their names were mentioned in only one scene, when a death penalty supporter shouted them out as he tossed blood on one of Williams' supporters.

All pro-death penalty folks, you see, are loony in the eyes of death penalty opponents. Death row inmates, even the guilty ones, are considered just plain, normal folk.

Fred Romano, who follows the death penalty news and much of the nonsense from opponents of capital punishment that goes with it, is familiar with the movie.

"Williams shouldn't be made a hero," Romano said, and that's precisely what the movie does. "He's not a hero." Williams has supposedly changed in prison, even writing children's books urging them to avoid gang life. But Romano is as skeptical about Williams' "remorse" as he is of Oken finally being put to death.

"Williams didn't feel guilty until he got caught," Romano observed. "Would he be so remorseful now if he had never got caught?"

But some have bought into the remorse act.

As proof positive that anyone can get nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, Williams was indeed nominated for one, even as the body count from those killed by members of the gang he started continued to rise.

"He sure shouldn't have been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize," Romano said. "Look at the thousands of people who've died on the streets because of him."

That not-so-minor matter didn't keep the movie from being made. America's "let's have a group hug for death row inmates" contingent probably loved the thing. That may be why Fred Romano and his family don't have their hopes up. They probably figure Oken will get another stay of execution, and then there might even be a movie about him - his struggles, his straying from the straight and narrow, the emotional trauma of his family. Don't expect to hear the names Garvin or Romano at all.

Skeptics will say it won't happen. But one thing is certain:

You'll see a movie about Steven Oken long before you see one about the Romanos and the Garvins.

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