Memo clarifying inmate release policy issued Thanos case apparently led to state prison action

September 24, 1990|By William F. Zorzi Jr.

Two weeks after John F. Thanos was arrested in a crime spree that left three people dead, Maryland correction officials issued an internal memo stating that the policy that led to his early release should not be applied to inmates with similar sentences.

While the Sept. 18 memo makes no specific mention of Thanos, it is clear that it was his release that prompted the Division of Correction to issue the "written guidance" for applying the policy, said correction officials who requested anonymity.

The memo, signed by Warren R. Sparrow, chief of classification for the Division of Correction, was the first written interpretation of the policy since its adoption March 9, the corrections officials said.

The policy dramatically changed the way so-called "good-time" credits are applied to overlapping sentences to reduce inmates' time behind bars.

The memo, a copy of which was reviewed by The Sun, was sent last week to commitment and classification supervisors -- those responsible for calculating inmates' release dates -- at all state institutions.

"It is routine any time anything like this happens -- that there is any crime of note -- that causes concern," said Leonard A. Sipes Jr., spokesman for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

"If it causes concern internally . . . there is always a review and always clarification to improve procedures."

Since his April 5 release from the Eastern Correctional Institution in Somerset County, Thanos, 41, of Joppa, has been charged with two murders, an attempted murder, two robberies and a host of other crimes between Aug. 29 and Sept. 4, when he was arrested after a shootout with police.

Mr. Sipes also said, "The policy didn't have anything to do with Thanos' release. There was never any intent to connect that policy to a person with Thanos' background and legal history."

Asked, however, whether the policy, in fact, was applied to reduce his sentence, Mr. Sipes said, "How he was released and why he was released is under investigation."

Correction officials who have seen Thanos' records say that "good-time" earned on a 21-year rape sentence was applied to reduce a later seven-year robbery sentence, resulting in his release April 5 -- about 18 months sooner than he would have been freed before the policy change.

In computing Thanos' release date, the sentences were considered overlapping because the May 19, 1986, robbery sentence began before the official end date of the rape sentence, Oct. 2, 1990, the correction officials said.

The memo explained that when an inmate sentenced before 1970 is released by "expiration of sentence" -- as some correction officials say Thanos was -- "that release is unconditional, and none of the . . . credits attributable to that period of confinement would have any potential later application" under the policy.

Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. said Friday that the credits used to release Thanos in 1986 on the rape sentence should never have been applied to the robbery sentence earlier this year, because it meant the credits were applied twice.

Mr. Curran said the sentences should not have been considered overlapping, because under Maryland law affecting pre-1970 sentences, the rape sentence "expired" when he left prison in 1986.

The furor over Thanos' release prompted Gov. William Donald Schaefer to demand an investigation of the case.

Bishop L. Robinson, state secretary for public safety and correctional services, dispatched Maryland State Police troopers assigned to the Division of Correction's internal investigation unit to look into the case, though officials refuse to say whether it is criminal investigation.

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