A 'horror-movie' script, attorney says Plea for Oken's life fails; slayer gets death penalty

"If you tried to write a script for a horror movie, you couldn't do any better than this. This is as bad as it gets."

Those words were spoken by Steven H. Oken's lawyer, Benjamin Lipsitz, who vainly tried to convince a Baltimore County Circuit Court jury that his client, despite his horrible crime, should live.


Steven Oken was convicted of the Nov. 2, 1987, sexual assault and murder of Dawn Marie Garvin.

"I'm not asking you to pat him on the head or to let him go," Lipsitz argued in closing arguments. "I'm asking you not to kill him."


After deliberating for three hours Friday, the jury of seven men and five women returned with a unanimous verdict: Death by lethal injection.

Judge James T. Smith Jr. signed the order for Oken's death, then signed a stay of execution, pending the mandatory appeal to the Maryland Court of Appeals, the state's highest court.

Oken, 29, a big man nattily dressed throughout his three-week trial, continued to make notes on a legal pad as the jury foreman read the verdict. He showed little emotion.

Trial testimony showed that in late October 1987 Oken, who worked at his family's pharmacy, was abusing drugs and alcohol and stalking women, whenever his wife was out of town.

Several psychiatrists for the defense and prosecution testified that Oken has "sexual sadism disorder," a rare mental illness in which the sufferer feels compelled to kidnap, rape and humiliate women.

He collected pornographic material, including his own Polaroid pictures of Baltimore prostitutes.

And he wrote up a shopping list of items he might use to break into someone's home, tie them up and sexually assault them.

Among the items on the list were: chloroform, rope, a glass cutter and camera and film to record the assault.


In mid-October, he was charged with assault, after a motel clerk at the Eastgate Motel in Baltimore told police that Oken, who appeared to be drunk, had tried to attack her.

Oken lived in a townhouse in White Marsh, and several neighbors testified that he had tried to get into their homes, using several different ruses. One time he claimed to be a doctor needing to use the phone for an emergency. Another time he claimed to be locked out of his house.

And just hours before Garvin was sexually assaulted and murdered, Oken unsuccessfully tried to get to a White Marsh woman by claiming to be a policeman.

The woman scared off Oken by demanding to see a police badge and not simply a police patch, as he had shown her.

His professed amnesia of the sexual assault and murder of Garvin lasted until just before his conviction.

His apparent lack of remorse lasted until just moments before the jury retired to deliberate on whether to sentence him to death, or life in prison.


Even in the apology note, read to the jury by Lipsitz, Oken seemed to offer a contradiction.

"There is not a day that goes by that I don't think of the grief I caused," he wrote.

S. Ann Brobst, one of two state's attorneys who prosecuted Oken, wondered in closing arguments how many days had gone by that he felt sorry, since he claims to have not remembered until recently.

But Brobst pointed out to the jury that Oken left his home that night with a loaded .25-caliber automatic, that he voluntarily took drugs and alcohol and began stalking a victim.

And after he sexually abused Garvin in her home, Oken simply shot her twice in the head.

"What he did was execute a witness, a witness who he had abused and subjugated."