Eight days before his execution, Steven H. Oken wrote a sharply worded letter to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. questioning the governor's political courage and asserting that by killing him Maryland would lose an opportunity to stop future murderers.
Oken's letter, dated June 9 but not sent until Thursday night, acknowledges his guilt for the "despicable crime" of killing 20-year-old Dawn Marie Garvin and admits he deserved to be punished.
However, the overall tone is less apologetic than disdainful - expressing doubt whether Ehrlich could make what Oken called "the difficult choice" of sparing his life.
"Everything I have seen and read concerning you Governor Ehrlich, leads me to believe that you are a politician in every respect of the word," Oken wrote. "You care about what all politicians care about: getting the vote."
The governor denied a petition for clemency Thursday, and Oken, 42, was executed that night by lethal injection 17 years after he went on a two-week rampage that left three women dead.
Ehrlich said about noon yesterday that he had not seen the letter. Henry Fawell, an Ehrlich spokesman, said later in the day that the letter was sent Thursday night to the governor's general fax line and was not found until late yesterday afternoon. He said the governor would have no comment on the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Sun.
Fred Warren Bennett, Oken's lead attorney, said he and his associates had made a tactical decision not to send the letter to the governor's office while Oken's appeal for clemency was pending.
"We thought it was in some respects inflammatory in terms of taking a potshot at the governor," Bennett said. "It shows that he was conflicted, that he knew he did wrong, that he did not know how adequately to express it."
Other victims unnamed
While Oken's letter acknowledges that he was "solely responsible" for the slaying of Garvin, the woman for whose murder he received the death penalty, it does not express remorse for killing his other two victims. Neither Patricia Antoinette Hirt, his then-wife's older sister, nor Lori Elizabeth Ward, a college student and motel clerk, are mentioned by name. Instead, Oken predicted Ehrlich would publicly state that the case was about three murders rather than just one.
"I only received the death penalty for the murder of Dawn Garvin," Oken wrote. "You will make reference to three murders to further demonize me in the public's eye. As awful as this crime was you will attempt to make it worse. You may say that I am splitting hairs, but I am being truthful."
The condemned man wrote that by killing him, the state would learn nothing about how to identify and stop "future Steven Okens."
"There are other Steven Okens out there and they will strike [with] horrific results and there will be more victims," he wrote. "You have a chance to make a difference. Learn from me. Learn why this happened. Learn how to identify and stop others before they commit these heinous crimes."
Oken said that he had participated in one study concerning his actions and that he would be willing to do more "to make a real difference."
"I do not want another family to go through what I have put Dawn Garvin's family and my family through," he said.
Oken wrote that if his execution was not blocked, "my family and friends will have become victims of the state of Maryland."
David Oken, the executed man's father, declined to comment, saying the letter spoke for itself.
But after being read Oken's letter yesterday afternoon, Garvin's brother called it "a letter of self-pity."
"His letter to the governor is all about him," Fred A. Romano said. "This should not have been about a legal issue. It should have been about remorse."
In response to Oken's contention that Maryland would make his family victims by executing him, Romano said, "His family is not a victim of the state. They're victims of Steven Oken, just like we are."
Though the issue was not mentioned in the letter, Bennett said Oken felt deeply that he had been singled out for the death penalty because he was not African-American. The state's criminal justice system has been criticized for racial disparities in its application of capital punishment, and most of the other prisoners on Maryland's death row are black.
In a brief news conference yesterday, Ehrlich expressed no misgivings over his denial of clemency. He said he had fulfilled his obligation to review all the facts of the case, calling it "something I take with the utmost seriousness."
Sun staff writer Andrew Green contributed to this article.