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Mourning in Maryland

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Now I have an idea of what pacifist-progressive Texans must feel. The Old Line State has put blood on the hands of its citizens.

With the approval of Maryland Gov. Robert “Hang ‘Em High Bob” Ehrlich, three-time murderer Steven Oken died tonight by lethal injection at the hands of the state. The government-sanctioned killing was done in retaliation for the 1987 rape and murder of 20-year-old Dawn Marie Garvin; Oken also was convicted of killing his sister-in-law Patricia Hirt, and Lori Ward, a Maine motel clerk.

Without doubt, Steven Oken did horrible things. He deserved punishment — a lifetime without freedom, behind bars. What Oken received today was nothing more than an easy way out.

The families of his victims may find some measure of validation from Oken’s revenge murder. They have suffered greatly, and all decent people join in mourning for their loved ones. Having sympathy for those harmed by a violent criminal, however, does not equate to support for capital punishment. And it certainly does not require staying silent in the face of such a grisly act as killing another human being.

It must be said: Thou shalt not kill.

I don’t recall exceptions, amendments, caveats, or anything more than those four words. And I know that every death, each and every one, is a diminishment of us all. Watching pro-death-penalty people outside Baltimore’s state prison complex jump and cheer with joy when word came that a man died tonight, left me feeling more than a little diminished.

So tonight I will mourn — for those physically and emotionally harmed by Steven Oken’s unconscionable acts, for Steven Oken himself, for the souls of those directly involved in his murder — including Hang ‘Em High Bob and the justices of the US Supreme Court. And I will pray, for those who supported the killing, for society’s collective soul, for human decency one day to prevail.

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About NR Davis

  • “It must be said: Thou shalt not kill.

    “I don’t recall exceptions, amendments, caveats, or anything more than those four words.”

    You haven’t read much of the Bible then, have you?

  • SFC SKi

    “government-sanctioned killing was done in retaliation for the 1987 rape and murder of 20-year-old Dawn Marie Garvin; Oken also was convicted of killing his sister-in-law Patricia Hirt, and Lori Ward, a Maine motel clerk.”

    No sympathy here, ND, you’d have spent your time better eulogizing the 3 victims. A proven serial murderer has no more need to live. Did you give more than a passing thought for his victims? Can you empathize with the families, feel their loss in any way, or is your emotion tied up in the death of a man who used his life only to kill others?

    Spare me your esoteric prose and any platitudes of the life of a man worth more than any wealth. Some men abandon their right to live by their actions. You want me to back yur casue, feel your indignation, why not right about political prisoners jailed and killed for trying to gain free speech or free press, or just plain freedom? This man, by his actions proived himself to be of no worth to society, except maybe as an organ donor. I don’t call for the death of murderers like him, a predator who killed 3 women, but if capital punishment is applied in his case, I won’t shed a tear. If you want to be indignant, find me a case where the evidence was less than solid, and a man was put to death, thne maybe you will have my ear.

  • pacifist-progressive Texans

    They exist?

    When I was, say 21, I would completely agree with what Natalie is saying. By the time I was 31, I wasn’t so sure every person deserves a minimum of life, no matter how hideous he is. Now, I triage death penalty cases. If the person killed one victim while young or in a moment of passion, I’m lenient. As the number of victims rises, I care less whether the murderer gets the needle. Serial killers and mass murderers get little sympathy at all. (If Terry Nichols had been sentenced to death last week, I would not have been able to muster any empathy.) I make exceptions for the retarded and the seriously mentally ill. I think a greater knowledge of how horrible people can be over the years has caused my attitude to shift. I still care about proportionality, and realize life sentences are cheaper for the government, but feel little positive toward the killers themselves.

  • The death penalty is a moral abomination with no empirical support — all the research indicates that it’s NOT a deterrent and its only purpose is as an outlet for our violence and rage. I won’t even get into the structural problems with the justice system that make the death penalty even more dangerous or the vast inequity in which social groups get the death penalty.

    What do you mean by “triage”? What’s your exact role? The Supreme Court has already long established that it’s unconstitutional to execute the mentally incapacitated.

  • bhw

    “It must be said: Thou shalt not kill.”

    Nice words, wrong document. The Constitution is what matters, and it doesn’t directly address capital punishment at all. So I think the Supremes will continue to go back and forth on it in the future. They may again deem it “cruel and unusual punishment,” but if they base their decision on “thou shalt not kill,” we’re all doomed.

    My personal belief: the state has no business taking a life, even if it somehow magically fixes the criminal justice system so no innocents end up on death row.

  • boomcrashbaby

    What qualifies as putting someone to death? In other cultures, you can be put to death for stealing or for speaking out against the government.

    Who gets to decide what qualifies you for being put to death by the state? One doesn’t need to see statistics to see there is a serious racial/class discriminatory process going on in the judicial system. Knowing all that is flawed with our system, I don’t see how anybody can be supportive of it, as it is.

    Many people can go to prison for offenses like possession of marijuana. Once they are in prison, is when they turn really bad, or can even kill someone in self-defense. Or they get released, but because of what they’ve learned in prison, they are now killers when they weren’t before. It’s at that point that they might get placed on death row. Not some place they would have ended up normally, because they aren’t a Dahmer type mentality to begin with.

    We, as a society, acknowledge two reasons for putting someone to death. 1) we don’t have to pay for them to live anymore (cost of maintaining a prisoner). And 2) justice for the victims families.

    Yet there is NO logic going on, in a society where we preach that killing is wrong, but then we use killing to ‘make things right’.

    I think the best thing to do, is to keep death row inmates in prison forever, that gives us time to find the innocents, and then also we put the inmates to work. The money they make can be used to support the prison system, so the taxpayer does it less, and it can be used to compensate the victims families or contribute to the greater good of society. Nobody dies, nobody is a burden anymore to the taxpayer, and we then truly can say we respect life, and the guilty will end up paying for their crimes for the rest of their God-given life. THAT is justice.

  • Romans 13:1-7
    1Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 4For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. 6This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

    Citizens are not to take the law into their own hands, however, in the Bible, God empowers government to protect the people and to promote justice. Is putting a murderer to death within the mandate of government? Absolutely.

    The Pew Forum published an excellent article a couple of years back on the Just War doctrine within Christianity and the power of the state to preserve civic peace.

    While I disagree with you Natalie on the issue of the death penalty, I’m very grateful that you published your article as its a debate that we should be having in our society, and an ongoing debate at that.


    David Flanagan

  • SFC: I’ll determine how my time is best spent, thanks. Obviously you didn’t even bother to read the entire piece, so there is no real reason to address you, except to note that you are in my prayers.

    BHW: The Constitution is all that matters — to you. I wasn’t speaking in terms of government, which should stay separate from all things religion, but about state-sanctioned murder in general. Yes, if judges went about basing their judicial opinions on the bible, it would be a horrid thing.

    MD: Yes, pacifist-progressive Texans do exist. They live in hell (unless they live in Austin). Opposing murders by the state doesn’t necessarily mean having positive feelings for the killers. It’s about having a positive feeling about life in general and standing against the cessation of it for any reason. Frankly, I think Oken ought to be punished for his unspeakable crimes — by killing him, stupid, revenge-hungry Marylanders only brought about an early end to his punishment. Brought to justice? I don’t think so.

    BHW and BCB get it, and it’s good to know there are three of us here. This can be a sad, lonely place.

  • the declarations (both pro & con) about what the bible has to say about the death penalty only serve to show that it’s all about interpretation.

    for instance, god is absolutely, totally against homosexuality.

    not absolute:
    it also says that a man must marry a young, unenaged woman if he has raped her.

    though shalt not kill

    ah, but this is not absolute if we take david’s roman’s quote into consideration.

    count me in nat’s camp.

    government-sanctioned murder is still murder.

  • yep, and murder is always wrong. thank you, Mark!!!

  • bhw

    I didn’t mean to come across as being curt, Natalie, but the post was about government-sanctioned killing and you referred to one of the Ten Commandments to explain why it’s wrong.

    I agree that it’s wrong, but my belief doesn’t come from either the Bible or the Constitution, both of which are open to interpretation as to whether or not capital punishment = murder.

    I think it is, but not because it says so in either document.

  • boomcrashbaby

    David Flanagan, what is the point of quoting the bible to determine if a government has the authority to kill or not? The bible is not our Constitution, it’s not our Bill of Rights, it needs to have nothing to do with setting up our government.

    All I can do is roll my eyes. We are not all Christians, and in a country where we are free to follow whatever religion we want, we could care less about “….Christianity and the power of the state to preserve civic peace.”

    And I was told it was a fantasy on another thread that people of a specific religion want the government to be the enforcing arm of THEIR belief. Ugh. So much work to do.

  • SFC Ski

    You are right, I did not read the last paragraph with the same attention as your first. I am sorry. I do appreciate your prayers.

  • BOB said:

    The Supreme Court has already long established that it’s unconstitutional to execute the mentally incapacitated.

    I gather you are referring to Ford v. Wainwright, 477 US 399 (1986). SCOTUS ruled that insane people should not be executed. But, there is plenty of wiggle room in deciding who is sufficiently insane. People who defense attorneys and their experts say are seriously mentally ill are put to death fairly often. Furthermore, contemporary medicine can render people who are psychotic well enough to be executed. Like abortion, this is a matter that is impacted by medical progress. Ultimately, the issue should be sanity at the time of the crime, a decision made at the trial level. But, I don’t believe the public is sympathetic to that. If anything, it frightens people to realize sanity can come and go. So, there are very few not guilty by reason of insanity verdicts.

    Polls usually reveal about 70 percent of Americans favor the death penalty. I do not foresee it ending during our (30 through 40-something) life times.

    Before someone posts a picture depicting me as the grim reaper, let me clarify that I am not embracing the death penalty. I just don’t consider use of it in the worst cases something that riles me all that much. As a young reporter, I spent about a month working on a series about a maximum security prison, which was being sued for inhumane conditions. Among the men I met were inmates who could not be released from their cells without completely restraining them because they had injured or killed other inmates. That is the reality of just how monstrous some of the people who solicit our sympathy are. I believe I am just being a realist.

  • Steve (Boom) if David Flanagan’s movement gets its way, Americans will all be Christians within their definition of the word. But, Natalie, you and I will not be Americans. You and I for one reason each. Natalie for two reasons. Margaret Atwood’s speculative fiction masterpiece will be reality.

  • “My personal belief: the state has no business taking a life, even if it somehow magically fixes the criminal justice system so no innocents end up on death row.”

    You pretty much nailed my own thoughts with this statement.

    That being said, since we DO have a death penalty, I will not waste my sympathy for swine like the man who was put to death in Maryland.

  • I rather like the “Bill O’Reilly Plan”:

    – End the Death Penalty

    – Put all convicted murderers who would have otherwise been eligible for the Death Penalty in a special Federal prison

    – Put that prison on some frigid Alaskan island.

    – Make these scum work doing back-breaking labor 6 days a week. If they refuse, they get nothing but stale bread, a multi-vitamin, and water. Solitary confinement. No TV.

    – Videotape their living hell. Play it in junior high school classrooms across the country. (This may work as a deterent.)


  • That plan sounds worthy of some consideration. I will think about it.

  • boomcrashbaby

    I’ve always believed and said that those on Death Row should be put to work to pay for themselves and for victims compensation and kept alive. That’s Bill O’Reilly’s plan too? Hmm, he finally got one right. It makes sense morally, ethically, judicially, financially, just all around solves every problem.

    Mac Diva – Believe me, I know and agree. I realize there are people of all faiths out there, who can keep the distinction between church and state, but that there are many who just can’t comprehend such a simple concept. By not realizing the difference, I feel personally, they (Bush’s admin. falls into this category too) are as much a threat to America, as Osama is.

  • Yes!

  • Tristan

    and what about “Thou Shalt Not Kill” do you NOT understand….??????

    (it doesn’t say Thou Shalt Not Kill unless they have …….)

    this gambling spammer MIGHT be the Exception~~!!!!!