Problems with lethal injection asserted

Convicted killer's lawyers claim process is incorrect

May 15, 2004|By Stephanie Hanes | Stephanie Hanes,SUN STAFF

Attorneys for convicted killer Steven H. Oken filed a motion in Baltimore County Circuit Court yesterday asking that a judge postpone their client's execution - scheduled for the week of June 14 - because of what they say are problems with Maryland's lethal injection process.

Across the country, there have been a number of recent challenges to the drug combination used in most lethal injections, with defense lawyers and death penalty opponents saying the drugs cause then mask excruciating pain.

But Oken's motion attacks the drug combination from a more technical position. It is focused solely on state law, saying the execution process outlined by the state's Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services does not match the steps required by the General Assembly.

The legislature has said an execution should be carried out with the "continuous administration of an ultra-short acting barbiturate or similar drug in combination with a chemical paralytic," the motion states.

But Oken's attorneys said corrections officials have a protocol that calls for a third drug, which is intended to stop the inmate's heart. They said the protocol also does not require the continuous application of the barbiturate, which is supposed to put the inmate to sleep.

"The legislature in this case enacted a statute that is plain in language and specific in its requirement. ... Defendants have ignored the statute," the motion states.

A Baltimore County circuit judge will decide whether to hold a hearing on the motion. If it is rejected without a hearing, Oken's attorneys are likely to appeal to the Maryland Court of Appeals.

"I think now they're just attempting to find an issue that either a trial or appellate court will latch onto and use as an excuse to issue a stay," said Baltimore County Deputy State's Attorney Stephen Bailey. "I'm confident, given what I've seen in their filing, that won't take place."

Oken's attorney, Fred W. Bennett, said yesterday that he expects to have more filings in the case soon.

Oken was sentenced to death in 1991 for the torture, rape and murder of White Marsh newlywed Dawn Marie Garvin, who was 20. He has been scheduled for execution twice before, but both times the Court of Appeals stopped the lethal injection from going forward.

If his appeals fail, Oken would be the first person executed in Maryland in nearly six years.

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