updated 6/17/2004 10:39:57 PM ET 2004-06-18T02:39:57

A triple murderer was put to death by injection Thursday after a week of appeals in which his lawyers claimed the execution method was potentially painful and therefore unconstitutionally cruel.

Lower courts had agreed to stay Steven Oken’s execution to determine whether a barbiturate used in the execution might not keep the inmate from feeling pain, but the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the decision Wednesday.

On Thursday, Oken’s lawyers argued that executioners might have to cut deeply into his flesh to administer the lethal drugs, but lower courts and the Supreme Court quickly rejected that appeal.

With his appeals exhausted and Gov. Robert Ehrlich declining to grant clemency Thursday, Oken was executed at 9:18 p.m., a Maryland prison spokeswoman said.

Oken, 42, was executed for the 1987 rape and murder of Dawn Marie Garvin, a 20-year-old newlywed. He also was convicted of killing Patricia Hirt, his wife’s sister, and Lori Ward, a motel clerk in Maine, during a 15-day spree.

‘Justice has been served’
Supporters and opponents of capital punishment demonstrated outside the state prison complex in Baltimore before the execution, waving signs, holding candles and chanting. When a death-penalty supporter announced on a bullhorn, “Mr. Oken has met his maker,” part of the crowd cheered and threw streamers into the air.

“Justice has been served. This is justice for Pat, Dawn and Lori ... we’re feeling good, we’re elated,” said Garvin’s brother, Fred A. Romano, who carried a stuffed bear found tucked under her arm when her body was discovered.

“It’s time to move on. Oken’s not worth our time anymore,” Romano said.

The appeal filed Thursday said Oken may require a “cut down” to receive the lethal drugs. The defense lawyers did not elaborate on why the procedure might be needed, but it is generally used when problems such as a history of intravenous drug use complicate reaching a vein.

The Supreme Court had ruled last month that an Alabama inmate could pursue a similar claim, but rejected Oken’s Thursday night, after rejecting another appeal in which his lawyers had alleged Oken’s earlier attorneys should have done more to argue against a death sentence.

Oken could have been executed any time before midnight Friday. State law prohibits corrections officials from disclosing the exact date and time of an execution. Instead, a judge signs a death warrant that runs for a five-day period, starting with a Monday.

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