Early release prompts victim's mother to sue Teen's suspected killer freed too soon, she says.

October 24, 1991|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Evening Sun Staff

The mother of an Overlea teen-ager killed during the 1990 Labor Day robbery of a Middle River gas station has sued the state and a former prison employee for $1 million, claiming that the alleged murderer, John Frederick Thanos, was wrongfully released 18 months early from prison.

"My main objective in filing the suit is so that this will not happen to someone else," said Donna Dillon, the mother of Melody N. Pistorio, the 14-year-old who was gunned down in a robbery of the Big Red gasoline station in the 9000 block of Pulaski Highway on Sept. 3, 1990.

Pistorio's boyfriend, Billy Winebrenner, 16, also was mortally wounded during the holdup.

The lawsuit, which seeks compensation for the wrongful death of Pistorio, was filed in Baltimore County Circuit Court by Dillon's attorneys, George W. White Jr. and Jay D. Miller.

It names the state and John Patrick O'Donnell, the former corrections clerk who signed the release papers for Thanos in April 1990, as defendants.

At the time, Thanos had been serving a seven-year prison sentence for a 1986 armed robbery. The suit charges that O'Donnell, and other prison officials who approved O'Donnell's calculations, mistakenly applied so-called good time credits from an earlier prison sentence to the 1986 armed robbery sentence, thereby freeing Thanos too soon.

Previously, Thanos had been released from prison in 1986 after having served roughly 15 years of a 21-year sentence for rape.

The lawsuit charges that the negligence of O'Donnell and the state "wrongfully caused the tragic and untimely death" of Pistorio, causing her mother to suffer "excruciating mental anguish, great emotional pain and suffering" as well as the loss of the society, companionship and comfort of her daughter.

"No amount of money will bring Melody back," Dillon said. "But hopefully it will make the Department of Corrections think twice in the future when releasing these prisoners."

Thanos, 42, faces a Jan. 20 trial for the robbery and murders of Pistorio and Winebrenner. The state is seeking the death penalty.

Thanos also faces trial for the first-degree murder, kidnapping and robbery of Gregory A. Taylor, 18, of Hebron. Taylor was killed after giving Thanos a ride on the Eastern Shore on Aug. 31, 1990.

Stewart Nathan, an assistant attorney general and chief lawyer for the Department of Public Safety and Corrections, declined to comment.

O'Donnell, of Somerset County, continues to maintain that he correctly followed a bad state policy, and that a supervisor, Warren Sparrow, approved his calculations.

"Truthfully," he said, "I couldn't support Mrs. Dillon more wholeheartedly. She has my wholehearted support, without a question in the world.

"My heart and my prayers goes out to all three families" of those Thanos is accused of killing, O'Donnell said. "I think that their damages should be presented before the courts. That's a weird thing to say for a guy who's just been sued for a million dollars."

O'Donnell, who was suspended after the incident, says that the state had wrongly put all the blame on him.

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