In a letter written to Maryland's governor eight days before Steven Howard Oken was executed, he acknowledged he was responsible for the 1987 death of Dawn Marie Garvin, a 20-year-old newlywed and college student in Baltimore County.

But in his missive to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., Oken, the first person put to death in the state since 1998, devoted most of the 900-word letter to complaints about the justice system being stacked against him. The letter, first reported by the Baltimore Sun, showed no obvious signs of remorse.

"I am solely responsible for the deaths of Dawn Garvin," Oken wrote. "It was a despicable crime and I should be punished for it."

Rather than seeking the Republican governor as an ally in what, at the time, was his defense's effort to save his life, Oken dismisses Ehrlich in the letter as "a politician in every respect of the word. You care about what all politicians care about: getting the vote."

The letter continued, "What is the message [of an execution]? That justice has been served? Perhaps that you are tough on crime; or that you are protecting the public and savings lives. But is this true? . . . Should I die for committing this crime? Of course the easy answer is yes. However, then you kill me, you learn nothing and if your learn nothing, then how can you save lives? How can you identify and stop future Steven Oken's? You cannot."

The letter was received in the governor's office Friday, but Ehrlich did not look at it because "it truly serves no purpose," said his press secretary, Greg Massoni. Oken was killed by lethal injection Thursday night.

Reached by telephone yesterday, Garvin's brother, Fred Romano Jr., reacted angrily. "That's a letter of self-pity. It's denial. It's belligerence," he said. "It's not a letter of remorse. Remorse to me would have been three separate letters, to each of the families: 'I'm sorry for the pain I've caused you and your family members.' "

Oken also was convicted of sexually assaulting and fatally shooting two other women -- his sister-in-law Patricia Hirt, and Lori Ward, a young motel clerk in Maine -- during a two-week rampage from Maryland to Maine in November 1987.

Romano said he was especially agitated by the letter's contention that Oken's family "will be the new victims created when the State of Maryland kills me."

"Oken's family are victims of Oken," Romano said. "If he hadn't . . . murdered three women, he'd still be alive today."

Fred Bennett, Oken's attorney for more than a decade, could not be reached for comment yesterday.