John Frederick Thanos, the rapist and robber charged in two recent murders, would still be in prison if the Division of Correction had not adopted a policy a month before his release that radically changed the way Maryland calculates an inmate's time behind bars, a correction official said.
In fact, Thanos was released about 1 1/2 years earlier than he would have been before the policy change, said a correction official familiar with Thanos' records who requested anonymity.
Since his release, Thanos, 41, has been charged with two murders, an attempted murder, two robberies and a handful of lesser crimes that occurred on the Eastern Shore and
in Baltimore County between Aug. 29 and Sept. 4, when he was arrested in Delaware after a shootout with police.
The attempted murder charge is expected to be upgraded to murder, after the death Sept. 9 of a Baltimore County teen-ager who was shot on Labor Day.
Thanos, of Joppa, has been denied bail and is being held at the Worcester County Detention Center.
Under the March 9 change, ordered by Bishop L. Robinson, state secretary of public safety and correctional services, the Division of Correction began reducing the amount of time inmates spend in prison by changing the way it applies good-conduct and other credits to sentences that overlap.
The change had been recommended by an assistant attorney general assigned to the agency who believed the Division of Correction was incorrectly figuring time off against those sentences.
Under the new policy, credits earned during one sentence are applied to a later, overlapping sentence, according to a March 9 memorandum signed by Elmanus Herndon, acting correction commissioner. As a result, inmates with those types of overlapping sentences would be released earlier.
The memorandum was sent to all prisons in the state with a covering letter by Mr. Robinson, who wrote that the new policy was "noted/approved for implementation effectively immediately," records show.
The memo, known as Division of Correction Information Bulletin No.9-90, also notes that the policy change had the blessing of Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr.
At the time of his release from Eastern Correctional Institution April 5, Thanos was serving a seven-year sentence for a robbery in Harford County -- a term that began May 19, 1986, and ends May 19, 1993, records show. He served only about four years, records show.
Although Thanos would have been given time off the robbery sentence for good behavior and other reasons, it was the credits earned during a sentence he served earlier on a 1969 Baltimore County rape conviction that won him early release in April, the correction official said.
Without those credits, he would have been released in September 1991, the official said.
Because of the new policy, credits Thanos earned while servinthe rape sentence, in effect, were applied twice, the official said.
Division of Correction officials have refused to discuss how the time was calculated in the Thanos case, citing their interpretation of a state law protecting the confidentiality of an inmate's record.
Since Sept. 5, when Thanos first was charged with murder, correction officials repeatedly have said they do not know whether he was released as a result of the new policy on so-called "overlapping, concurrent sentences."
Officials have acknowledged, however, that they are investigating how Thanos' release date was figured.
"We are reviewing his case, making sure that there were no inconsistencies in the calculation of his diminution credits," said Susan G. Kaskie, a spokeswoman for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.
But it is the policy change -- and not a miscalculation -- that is the reason for Thanos' early release, a source in the Division of Correction said.
According to court documents, information from the Division of Correction, and interviews with a DOC source who requested anonymity, this is what happened in the Thanos case:
A Baltimore County circuit judge gave Thanos a 21-year sentence -- a term with a beginning date of Oct. 2, 1969, and an ending date of Oct. 2, 1990.
Thanos was released from prison on April 23, 1986, after the Division of Correction applied 1,623 days of credits for good behavior and other work, as required by law.
He was arrested 27 days later, May 19, 1986, on robbery and other charges, later pleading guilty in Harford County Circuit Court to the robbery charge.
The judge sentenced him to 10 years in prison, beginning May 19, the first day of his incarceration. That 10-year sentence later was reduced to seven years by a Harford County circuit judge after a change in the Maryland sentencing guidelines.
Until the policy was changed March 9, the Division of Correction considered Thanos' rape and robbery sentences separate, with no relationship to each other.
But the policy change meant that Thanos' sentences were now treated as an overall term that totaled about 23 years, 7 1/2 months, because they overlapped.