Growth Debate Ignites in Pr. George's

Subdivisions Replace Farmland in South County

The high-velocity growth in southern Prince George's County has sparked a vigorous debate over the future of an area where expansive parcels of land, once home to farms and forests, are being transformed by developers into subdivisions with houses starting at $300,000.

Some members of the County Council want to curb construction and redirect development to older communities in need of revitalization. But the real estate industry has an array of builders, zoning lawyers and lobbyists on the other side of the issue.

Mount Rainier Fire Linked to Arsonist

Task Force Says Apartment Blaze Intentional

An early morning fire in the stairwell of a Mount Rainier apartment building Tuesday was added to the list of arsons under investigation by a regional task force.

No one was injured in the blaze, which brought to 39 the number of suspicious fires linked by investigators because of similarities that include being set with a liquid accelerant in the early morning and being ignited in staircases or near the doors of occupied buildings.

Achievement Test Results Show Progress

Scores Up, Gap Narrows on High School Exams

Statewide scores on Maryland's reading and math achievement tests improved from a year ago, and the performance gap between white and minority students showed signs of narrowing, state education officials said as they released results from the High School Assessments.

School systems will use the scores this summer to determine which schools are on the right track and which schools are "in need of improvement" under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Last Appeal Fails as Oken Executed

17 Years Ago, Rampage Left 3 Women Dead

After a brief stay of execution was lifted by the U.S. Supreme Court, Steven H. Oken was put to death by Maryland on Thursday night -- nearly 17 years after he brutally assaulted and killed a Baltimore County college student and newlywed.

A lethal injection was administered to Oken starting at 9:09 p.m. in Maryland's first execution since 1998. Observing were Betty Romano, the mother of victim Dawn Marie Garvin; Keith Garvin, her husband; and relatives of two other women Oken killed on a two-week rampage in November 1987.

Steele Keeps Silent on Execution

Lt. Governor a Known Foe of Capital Punishment

As the execution of Steven H. Oken loomed, Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele (R) kept silent on the death penalty despite his opposition to capital punishment, which he often voiced during the 2002 campaign.

Steele also pledged shortly after he and Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. were elected that he would set up a task force to address the issue of racial bias in the state's use of the death penalty.

Steele's press secretary said the lieutenant governor "will not talk about the death penalty, period."

Across the Region

Strathmore Fire; Connector Pitch; Grasmick Back

* A fire that authorities said was set damaged a dressing-room area in the Strathmore Hall music center under construction in North Bethesda, causing up to $500,000 damage. The structure is supposed to open in February.

* Supporters of the intercounty connector between Montgomery and Prince George's counties say the proposed highway would significantly cut commuting times and increase the number of jobs Marylanders could reach within 45 minutes by nearly 170,000.

* The Maryland State Board of Education unanimously approved a four-year contract for state schools chief Nancy S. Grasmick, who has held that post for 13 years.

Finish line: Annapolis High graduates endured a year in which their principal was transferred. Throughout the state, seniors moved on as school year ended.