Prison clerk didn't do job, state says Error wasn't fixed, lawyer tells judge

October 11, 1990|By Thomas W. Waldron and Mark Bomster | Thomas W. Waldron and Mark Bomster,Evening Sun Staff

State officials now say that a former prison records supervisor was suspended not because he approved the release of John F. Thanos, but because he didn't correct the alleged error later. Thanos currently is charged in three slayings that occurred after his release from the Eastern Correctional Institution.

Assistant State Attorney General Stuart Nathan told an administrative law judge yesterday that John P. O'Donnell, the former prison records supervisor, should have figured out that he had miscalculated Thanos' release date last April.

"The primary concern is Mr. O'Donnell failed to correct the mistake," Nathan told Judge Eleanor Wilkinson, who presided at the preliminary hearing on O'Donnell's suspension without pay.

In other developments:

* Gov. William Donald Schaefer yesterday repeated his intention to name an independent investigator to look into Thanos' release.

* In a separate review, public safety Secretary Bishop L. Robinson has ordered one of his top aides to take another look at the department's handling of the case, including whether any others should be disciplined. That report should be ready in a few days, Robinson said.

Authorities say Thanos went on a crime spree between Aug. 29 and Sept. 4. He now faces two murder charges in Baltimore County and one in Worcester County.

Robinson has said that Thanos was released 18 months too soon because officials mistakenly awarded him with early-release credits he did not deserve. O'Donnell was suspended last week but no formal charges have been filed against him.

At yesterday's hearing, Nathan said O'Donnell had a telephone conversation with Warren K. Sparrow, the prison system's chief of classification, three weeks after Thanos' release. In that conversation, Sparrow and O'Donnell talked about the complicated process of awarding early-release credits, according to Nathan.

Nathan said the conversation was about early-release credits in general, not about Thanos' case in particular. But, he said, after that conversation, O'Donnell should have realized the mistake he had made three weeks earlier and corrected it by moving to have Thanos returned to state custody.

O'Donnell, the only person disciplined in the Thanos case, has claimed that Sparrow approved Thanos' release.

Nathan also said that O'Donnell missed a meeting in May at which the issue of awarding good-time credits was discussed.

"The fact remains that if Mr. O'Donnell had been doing his job, he would have realized a mistake had been made," Nathan said.

O'Donnell's attorney, J. Edward Davis, urged Wilkinson to allow O'Donnell to remain on the job at ECI while the formal disciplinary charges are brought against him. O'Donnell left his job in the records office in June to become a guard.

"Mr. O'Donnell was just one of many people down at the bottom of the totem pole doing his job," Davis said. "They want the guy at the bottom of the totem pole to correct his mistake."

O'Donnell declined to discuss the substance of Nathan's statments, but called them generally "slanderous."

Schaefer yesterday said he wanted a full report on the Thanos case in "two, three weeks, at the most."

Schaefer has not named an investigator but suggested it should be "someone on the outside who really knows the law, knows criminal justice, knows administration."

The possibilities could include a retired judge, an employee of the state's attorney's office or someone else outside the Division of Correction with "no ax to grind," Schaefer said.

The investigator "ought to look at the old law, the new law and see where there was an error and whether any action can be taken to correct this problem," the governor said.

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