Corrections official who freed Thanos is acquitted of disorderly conduct

January 03, 1992|By William F. Zorzi Jr.

John P. O'Donnell, the former records supervisor at Eastern Correctional Institution who released John F. Thanos, was acquitted yesterday of a disorderly conduct charge stemming from an incident at the prison in November.

Mr. O'Donnell, 51, was acquitted in Somerset County District Court after the state's only witness, ECI Assistant Warden Lewis Williams, testified.

Mr. O'Donnell, who maintains he was "set up" by the state police and the Division of Correction to be arrested Nov. 27 at the Somerset County prison, said he felt vindicated by the judge's action.

"I feel I didn't do anything unlawful, anything that should offend anybody or anything," he said.

Mr. O'Donnell was arrested after he arrived at the prison to pick up a letter faxed to him there by the Maryland attorney general's office.

After getting the letter, Mr. O'Donnell was met in the warden's office by a handful of troopers, including a corporal attached to the Department of Correction's internal investigation unit who was a key state witness against him at a personnel hearing in the Thanos case.

Mr. O'Donnell was later charged with one count of being intoxicated and disturbing the peace by refusing to obey a lawful order of a police officer to leave the prison.

The Division of Correction had suspended Mr. O'Donnell without pay more than a year ago, pending a ruling on charges that he should be fired for mistakenly releasing Thanos from prison in April 1990, 18 months earlier than he should have been. Thanos, a convicted robber and rapist, was later charged with killing three teen-agers during a crime spree in the summer of 1990 and is awaiting trial.

Corrections officials maintain that Mr. O'Donnell should have recognized a mistake in releasing Thanos under a new policy and arranged for him to be rearrested -- despite the fact that his supervisor at headquarters approved the release. A decision in the personnel matter is expected later this month.

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