Don’t let them execute Steven Oken

Prosecutors are eager to use Steven Oken’s case to rebuild support of Maryland’s embattled death penalty.

Oken is a middle-class white man accused of killing a white victim in a string a brutal murders in 1991. On a death row dominated by poor Blacks, Oken is an exception. But even this "exception" shows the death penalty is unjust.

Oken was arrested in Maine, and before the facts of his case were known, Baltimore County prosecutors jumped in front of cameras and began to clamor for the death penalty. Oken was given a sentence of life without parole in Maine. But prosecutors maneuvered to ensure that Oken was extradited back to Maryland, where he could be given a death sentence.

At his trial psychological "experts" testified that Oken represented a continued threat to the public--ignoring the fact that Oken already would never walk the streets again.

Then there is Baltimore County’s own shameless record in using the death sentence. This county, which is mostly white and one of the most affluent in the region, accounts for nine of the 12 men on death row. County prosecutors have one of the highest per-capita rates of capital prosecutions in the nation.

The last man executed in Maryland, Tyrone X Gilliam, who was put to death in 1998, was convicted by Baltimore County prosecutors. They based their case mainly on Tyrone’s "confession"--which he gave after he was taken from his hospital bed, where he was suffering from massive head injuries and, according to police reports, didn’t know who or where he was.

The two people taken off death row in Maryland--Kirk Bloodsworth, who was exonerated and freed, and Eugene Colvin-El, whose sentence was commuted because of the lack of evidence against him--are both victims of Baltimore County. So is Kevin Wiggins, another death row prisoner whose claims of innocence are currently being heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.