Maryland prison officials today said they are studying why a robber and rapist now charged with a murderous crime spree was freed from prison under a new policy that reduces time spent in prison by crediting inmates with good time earned in a separate prison term.
The investigation centers on John Frederick Thanos, the 41-year-old Joppa man charged with two murders, attempted murder, two robberies and other crimes. He was released from the Eastern Correctional Institution on April 5 after serving only about four years of a seven-year sentence.
Meanwhile, Gov. William Donald Schaefer has taken a "deep interest" in both the Thanos case and the policy that meant an early release for a career criminal, a spokesman said today.
"The governor is aware of this and is concerned," said Ray Feldmann, assistant press secretary for the governor. Feldmann said Schaefer has requested a "full report on all circumstances" relating to the Thanos release from Bishop L. Robinson, secretary of Public Safety and Correctional Services.
"The governor wants it as soon as possible," Feldmann added.
Susan Kaskie, a spokeswoman for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said Thanos was released under a policy adopted a month before his release that reduces the amount of time inmates spend in prison by changing the method of applying good conduct and other credits that overlap.
Thanos, being held without bail at the Worcester County Detention Center, was arrested Sept. 4 in Smyrna, Del., following a shootout with police.
He is charged with murdering Gregory A. Taylor, 18, who lived in the Eastern Shore town of Hebron, Md., near Salisbury. Taylor picked up Thanos while he was hitchhiking on U.S. 50, police have alleged.
Baltimore County police have charged Thanos in the Labor Day robbery of a Middle River gas station that ended with the shootings of Melody Nicole Pistorio, 14, and her 16-year-old boyfriend, William W. Winebrenner. The girl died that day; Winebrenner died Sept. 9.
The attempted murder charge against Thanos is expected to be changed to first-degree murder in Winebrenner's death.
Kaskie confirmed a report today in The Sun that said Thanos would still be in prison if the new policy -- approved by Bishop L. Robinson, secretary of public safety and correctional services -- had not been implemented March 9.
"Yes, there is a policy of applying overlapping credits" to the so-called "good time" credits of prisoners who serve separate sentences, Kaskie said.
"What we can't address right now," said Kaskie, "is whether the policy was properly applied to Thanos. The investigation is being conducted by the system's classification division."
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 commissioner of correction. As a result, inmates with those types of XTC overlapping sentences would be released earlier.
At the time of his release, Thanos was serving a seven-year sentence for a convenience store robbery in Harford County, a term that began May 19, 1986, and ends May 19, 1993, records show. He served only about four years.
Although Thanos would have been given time off 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 Sun reported.
Kaskie refused to discuss how Thanos' credits were calculated, citing a state law protecting the confidentiality of inmates' records.