State says clerk learned of error in Thanos case Lawyer focuses on 'failure to correct'

October 11, 1990|By William F. Zorzi Jr.

A state lawyer charged yesterday that the former prison records supervisor suspended for mistakenly freeing rapist and robber John F. Thanos later learned that his interpretation of a policy affecting the release was wrong but did not act to have Thanos arrested again.

Stuart M. Nathan, an assistant attorney general representing the Division of Correction at a preliminary hearing on the suspension, said that John P. O'Donnell was told by headquarters personnel in an April 27 phone conversation that his interpretation of a new policy affecting inmates with sentences similar to Thanos' was wrong.

But Mr. Nathan acknowledged before the hearing officer that the conversation Mr. O'Donnell had with the official -- three weeks after Thanos was freed -- did not relate to his release, only to the application of the policy.

The focus of the state's case was not the release of Thanos but Mr. O'Donnell's "failure to correct a mistake," Mr. Nathan said. Later he said the Division of Correction had "serious concerns" about Mr. O'Donnell's "ability to follow the rules."

Mr. Nathan maintained that based on a conversation with Warren R. Sparrow, the agency's director of classification, Mr. O'Donnell should have requested a warrant for the arrest of Thanos because he was released from Eastern Correctional Institution by mistake.

For those reasons, Mr. O'Donnell should not be allowed to return to work at ECI, where he since has become a correctional officer, Mr. Nathan told administrative law Judge Eleanor A. Wilkinson.

Thanos, 41, of Joppa, was arrested Sept. 4 after a six-day crime spree that left three people dead.

Thanos is being held at the Worcester County Detention Center, charged with three murders, two robberies and a host of other crimes.

After the hearing, Mr. O'Donnell, whose lawyer cautioned him not to speak to reporters, said only, "The state of Maryland has slandered me through Mr. Nathan." He did not speak at the hearing.

Ms. Wilkinson said she would rule on whether Mr. O'Donnell

should return to work at ECI within

five days.

The hearing yesterday was an appeal of Mr. O'Donnell's suspension, the first step in the process of appealing the Division of Correction's efforts to fire him.

He later will face charges at a personnel hearing.

The suspension without pay was the result of an internal investigation into Thanos' release from prison about 18 months early, after Mr. O'Donnell applied a new Division of Correction policy to shorten Thanos' seven-year sentence on a robbery conviction. That policy governs the application of "good-time" credits to overlapping sentences.

State correction officials have refused to tell Mr. O'Donnell what specific charges have been lodged against him, other than to say that they stem from Thanos' release and that continued duty would pose a threat to public safety.

"If Mr. O'Donnell had responded properly, those tragic results could have been prevented," Mr. Nathan said about the three killings with which Thanos is charged.

Later he said, "The Division of Correction has a lack of confidence in Mr. O'Donnell."

But J. Edward Davis, Mr. O'Donnell's lawyer from the Maryland Classified Employees Association, shot back: "I have a lack of confidence in the entire Division of Correction."

Mr. Davis later said that even if Mr. O'Donnell had made a mistake -- which the lawyer did not concede -- he should not be fired.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.