Mother of slain teen sues state, ECI clerk over Thanos release $1 million lawsuit alleges negligence

October 24, 1991|By William F. Zorzi Jr.

The mother of one of three teen-agers allegedly killed by rapist and robber John F. Thanos has filed a $1 million negligence lawsuit in Baltimore County Circuit Court against the state and a prison records clerk who signed the convict's release papers.

Lawyers for Donna Dillon, whose 14-year-old daughter, Melody N. Pistorio, was shot to death Sept. 3, 1990, at a Middle River convenience store, filed the suit Tuesday.

It charges that the state and the former records clerk at Eastern Correctional Institution, John P. O'Donnell, were negligent in allowing Thanos to go free April 5, 1990 -- 18 months earlier than he should have been released.

Thanos is awaiting trial in the shooting deaths of Melody Pistorio and two other teen-agers -- Billy Winebrenner, 16, and Gregory Allen Taylor, 18.

"The bottom line is that if he hadn't been let out, they would be alive today," said George W. White Jr., one of Ms. Dillon's lawyers.

Although no trials have been held, Mr. White said the suit was not premature. He said six months had elapsed since Ms. Dillon filed her initial claim with state Treasurer Lucille Maurer, and it thus far has gone unanswered, affording her the right to file suit.

The suit misidentifies the ECI records supervisor who released Thanos as James Patrick O'Donnell, but Mr. White said the suit could be amended to make it accurate.

The former prison records clerk, John Patrick O'Donnell, said yesterday that he had "mixed emotions" to being named in the suit.

"First of all, someone's suing me for $1 million; that'll get your attention pretty quick," he said. "But secondly, I have deep concern for those families and a personal sense of loss for those young people.

"As far as the release of John Thanos, that was done in an official capacity after checking with headquarters and getting their approval to do so," he said.

Mr. O'Donnell was referring to his boss and the Division of Correction's former chief of classification, Warren R. Sparrow, who approved the release. Mr. Sparrow was later demoted and disciplined for his role in the release; for the last year, the state has been trying to fire Mr. O'Donnell for signing Thanos' release papers.

Stuart M. Nathan, principal counsel for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said he had not seen the suit and could not comment.

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