Convicted killer Steven Oken asked the state's highest court yesterday to halt his execution to allow him to challenge the constitutionality of Maryland's lethal injection process for putting a person to death.

In Oken's stay of execution request to the Maryland Court of Appeals, lawyers Fred W. Bennett and Michael E. Lawlor wrote that "due to the insufficiency of the execution protocols and training of execution team members, the killing of Steven Oken will amount to little more than torture."

Oken, convicted of killing three women in 1987, is scheduled to die by lethal injection the week of June 14. Bennett said that schedule does not leave enough time to litigate Oken's lawsuit against the Maryland Division of Correction.

Corrections officials have said they are satisfied that lethal injections in Maryland have been conducted "humanely, painlessly and with dignity." The Maryland attorney general's office called Oken's court claim an "abusive delay" when it responded to his lawsuit last week.

Oken has a right to question the state's method of execution, his lawyers wrote, and he "has not manipulated the system."

Twice before, the Court of Appeals has halted Oken's execution because of pending appeals.

Assistant Attorney General Scott S. Oakley, who wrote the state's response to Oken's lawsuit, could not be reached for comment yesterday about the request for a stay of execution. Baltimore County Deputy State's Attorney Stephen Bailey said his office received the filings late yesterday afternoon and would need time to review them.

Also yesterday, Oken's lawyers appealed a Baltimore judge's decision that the lawsuit, which had been filed in the city, be heard in Baltimore County, where Oken has a 13-year history of litigation. Bennett has said the lawsuit was filed in the city because "that's where Oken has been living, and that's where he is scheduled for execution."

In addition to that lawsuit, Oken has an motion outstanding in Baltimore County Circuit Court based on what Bennett said is a disparity between the Maryland legislature's established procedures for lethal injection and the way it is administered.

Last night, opponents of capital punishment gathered at Mount Hope Baptist Church in Baltimore for a "town meeting."

"If you all ever want to do anything, this is the time to do it," said Davida Oken, the condemned killer's mother, to some 30 people at the gathering.

A march to the state prison complex in the city is planned for Saturday to call attention to Oken's fate.

Oken, now 42, was convicted in 1991 of raping and murdering Dawn Marie Garvin, a 20-year-old White Marsh newlywed. Oken also was convicted of killing his sister-in-law, Patricia Hirt, in Maryland, and motel clerk Lori Ward in Maine.