LEONARDTOWN -- Convicted murderer John Frederick Thanos yesterday won a legal victory of sorts when he persuaded a St. Mary's County judge to allow him to waive his request for a jury trial.
In a bizarre courtroom encounter that pitted Thanos against his own attorneys -- who insisted that waiving the jury trial was a bad move -- Judge Marvin S. Kaminetz sided with Thanos.
Saying the choice is for the defendant rather than his attorneys to make, the judge scheduled Thanos to face a court trial here tomorrow. Thanos, 42, is accused of the Aug. 31, 1990, kidnap, robbery and murder of Gregory A. Taylor, 18, a welder from Salisbury.
Thanos, who faces the death penalty if convicted of killing Mr. Taylor, argued yesterday that the judge, with more legal experience than jurors, would render a fairer verdict.
Some jurors, said Thanos, know so little about the judicial system that they think "a writ of habeas corpus refers to an extinct mammal."
He also said he wanted to speed the proceeding up, so that he may be returned as soon as possible to what he called the "sanctuary" of his prison cell at the Super Max wing of the Maryland Penitentiary in Baltimore.
"That's a clear-cut matter," Thanos said, referring to the first phase of his trial, which will determine his guilt or innocence. A sentencing hearing will follow that, if he's convicted. "We're just going through the motions. I have no defense in that area."
James McCarthy, one of three public defenders representing Thanos, urged the judge to bar Thanos from backing away from his request for a jury trial, citing a rule that says a defendant cannot change his mind after the trial begins.
Mr. McCarthy argued that the trial had begun March 9 with motions, and continued the next day with jury selection.
B. Randall Coates, the state's attorney for Worcester County, countered by saying a jury trial begins only after a jury of 12 is seated and sworn in, which had not yet happened.
"I agree with him," Thanos said.
The trial here is the second murder trial Thanos has faced this year. In January, a Garrett County jury found him guilty of killing two Baltimore County teen-agers during a Labor Day, 1990, robbery.
Billy Winebrenner, 16, a gas station clerk, and his girlfriend, Melody Pistorio, 14, were killed at the Big Red gasoline station on Pulaski Highway in Middle River, where Billy worked.
Thanos still faces a death penalty hearing in Garrett County June 1 for the murders of Mr. Winebrenner and Miss Pistorio.
Mr. Taylor, according to a videotaped confession Thanos gave to police after his arrest, gave Thanos a ride Aug. 31, 1990, on U.S. 50. After forcing Mr. Taylor to hand over his wallet, Thanos described forcing his victim to drive to a remote area, where Mr. Taylor was shot three times.
Thanos is already serving more than 100 years in prison for the armed robbery on Aug. 29, 1990, of a Salisbury cabdriver and the robbery and attempted murder Sept. 2, 1990, of a Salisbury convenience store clerk.