FOR THE FAMILY of Dawn Marie Garvin, who was tortured and mutilated before Steven Oken shot her in the head, Thursday night marked the end of 17 years of seeing Oken portrayed as the victim.
Let's just cut to the chase and say that right at the top. For death penalty opponents - who have the dubious talent of being noble with the grief of the families of murder victims - it was Oken who was the victim in this matter. Garvin's brother, Fred A. Romano, her father, Fred J. Romano, her mother, Betty Romano, and all her other relatives and loved ones were just statistics.
The state must not "murder" Oken, railed death penalty opponents, who obviously can't make a distinction between executing a killer and what Oken did to Garvin that night in 1987. And assuming executions are murder, there is that legal matter of justifiable homicide that death penalty opponents seem to have forgotten.
Capital punishment is only revenge, death penalty opponents preached piously.
Oh, really? Let's look closely at how this group has mugged the English language. I think we can all agree that if Fred A. and Fred J. Romano and Dawn Garvin's husband had caught up to Oken the night of the murder, tortured him, mutilated him and then shot him in the head, it would have been an act of revenge. Now let's look at what death penalty opponents compare that to.
When Oken was arrested, he was read his Miranda rights by police. He had the right to have a lawyer represent him and be tried before a jury of his peers.
Oken's lawyer had the right to challenge prospective jurors who might have been for the death penalty. He had the right not to testify against himself. The burden of proof was on the state, not Oken.
Once he was found guilty, any mitigating circumstances - mental retardation, age, etc. - would have been taken into account. Once convicted, Oken had the right to postconviction relief hearings and a seemingly endless string of appeals that stretched out over 13 years. Those appeals lasted right up until this week, with U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte ruling that Oken's execution should be put on indefinite hold. The Supreme Court overturned that ruling Wednesday.
For death penalty opponents, that entire 13-year process, from start to finish, with all those rights guaranteed to Oken, are basically the same thing as Garvin's family taking Oken out and torturing, mutilating and shooting him. For the anti-capital punishment crowd, no stretch of the truth, no abuse of hyperbole is off the table.
That's why when no bias could be found in Maryland when the race of defendants was taken into account, death penalty opponents quickly shifted gears and focused on the race of the victims. Former Gov. Parris Glendening ordered a two-year moratorium on the death penalty so this matter could be studied. When the results came in, they pointed to more of a geographical disparity - Baltimore County has the curious practice of asking for the death penalty in every case where it applies - than a racial one.
Anti-death penalty activists took the racial disparity tack to try to guilt-trip folks into banning capital punishment. But there is also a racial disparity in reading and geometry scores among students throughout the state. Would death penalty opponents suggest we put a two-year moratorium on learning? Let's not give them any ideas.
Here's what may be the favorite argument of death penalty opponents: Capital punishment is not a deterrent. That must come as a surprise to Fred A. Romano, who has spent the past 13 years doing research on the matter. He's found several studies that support the notion that the death penalty is a deterrent.
Romano puts all that information on his Web site dedicated to giving the pro-capital punishment side of the death penalty debate. And he's doesn't intend to stop now that his sister's murderer has been given the justice due to him.
"Absolutely," Romano said when asked whether he was going to continue his pro-death penalty activities. "We're going to actually expand the Web site and get a new Web site up for all victims of crime in Maryland."
And how does Romano feel now that his family has come to the end of a long, sometimes torturous journey?
"I was wondering if I would feel any guilt," Romano said of his persistence in seeing Oken's death sentence carried out. "I didn't know how I'd feel. Now that it's over, I can honestly say that I feel relief."
And well he should. In this matter of simple justice that was made quite complicated, all of Dawn Garvin's family can now feel a sense of relief.