Outside the prison, supporters and opponents of the death penalty gathered in separate groups. Shortly before 9 p.m., chanting arose from the group of about 60 supporters, who included victims' relatives: "turn on the juice."

When word spread that Oken was dead, several relatives huddled briefly and said a prayer, and others broke out in cheers.

"The burden has been lifted. Oken's dead," said Fred A. Romano, Garvin's brother. He taunted Bennett through a bullhorn: "How can you sleep? How much money did you make?"

Down the street, many of the 40 death penalty opponents assembled cried when they learned that Oken had been put to death. Those who were carrying lit candles blew them out.

"Tonight the state extinguished a life, but it ignited a flame in each of us. I want you to walk away from this event tonight stronger," said Sedira Banan, 19, of the American University Campaign to End the Death Penalty.

The execution - the 84th in Maryland's history, its fourth since resuming executions in 1994 after the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976 and its first since 1998 - occurred in amid an intensifying statewide debate over capital punishment. Over the past two years, Ehrlich's predecessor, Parris N. Glendening, had imposed a temporary moratorium on the death penalty, state Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. called for abolishing it, and a state-commissioned report questioned the fairness of the state's use of the sentence.

Oken's case, which included two previous death warrants that were not acted upon because of appeals, grew closely entwined with the larger debate. His parents became vocal critics of the death penalty, while Garvin's family became outspoken advocates of it.

Death penalty critics noted that Oken's case fit what they said was a disturbing trend in Maryland: like a disproportionate number of death row inmates, Oken was sentenced in Baltimore County, and his victims were white. But advocates of the death penalty noted that, as a middle-class white man, he could hardly be portrayed as a victim of prosecutorial bias.

Steven Oken admitted to his crimes. He sexually assaulted and shot to death three women in November 1987. Then 25 years old and married, Oken gave few hints that he would commit such crimes, his family has said.

In a 2001 article in the Baltimore Jewish Times, Oken talked of his drug and alcohol abuse, personal problems and depression, and said, "I can't point to one thing that made this happen ... I just didn't want to deal with everything."

Adopted at birth by David and Davida Oken, Steven was raised in a Jewish family with a younger brother and sister.

Oken's mother, Davida Oken, said signs of trouble emerged in 1986. She said her son had been abusing alcohol and drugs, including cocaine, marijuana and prescription medications that he had stolen from his father's pharmacy.

On the night of Nov. 1, 1987, Oken knocked on doors in a White Marsh neighborhood near where he and his wife lived, trying to convince residents to let him inside by posing alternately as a stranded motorist and a doctor.

According to court testimony, he knocked on 20-year-old Dawn Garvin's door. She let Oken inside. Garvin's father, Frederick J. Romano, found his only daughter's body early the next day.

Two weeks later, Oken attacked his wife's older sister, Patricia Hirt, inside his White Marsh townhouse, where the 43-year-old Hirt had come to return a camera.

Two days later, he was arrested in Maine - but not before he sexually assaulted and fatally shot motel clerk Lori Ward.

Suzanne Tsintolas, Ward's older sister and a Rockville lawyer, said a few days ago that the execution would "help to maintain my faith in our judicial system."

"My sister was ripped away from our family, and we can't get her back. But at least this evil person won't be walking among us."

Outside the prison after the execution, the crowd of death penalty advocates lingered to celebrate. As the hearse containing Oken's remains pulled away at 10:25 p.m., the crowd chanted "na, na, na, na, hey, hey, hey goodbye."

Taking in the scene, Fred J. Romano, Garvin's father, said "I'm feeling great right now. I feel finally justice has been done. And I just want to say this: I cradled my dead daughter's body in my arms when I found her. I attempted to give her CPR. The way this guy died, he died too easy. He had no right to die in dignity, no right at all."

Sun staff writers Andrew A. Green, Lynn Anderson, and Laurie Willis contributed to this article.