LEONARDTOWN -- A St. Mary's County judge, after deliberating for 9 1/2 hours yesterday, sentenced John Frederick Thanos to death for the Aug. 31, 1990, murder of a young Eastern Shore man who had given the defendant a ride in his car.
Judge Marvin S. Kaminetz acknowledged that Thanos' troubled childhood, his mental illness and an "inappropriate incarceration" at age 15 in an adult prison were factors to consider.
But the judge said the brutal nature of the robbery and killing of Gregory A. Taylor Jr., 18, a welder from Hebron, outweighed those mitigating circumstances. "Therefore, the court determines the sentence . . . to be death," the judge said.
"Is that death by gas?" Thanos asked with no display of emotion last night after the sentencing.
"Death by lethal gas," Judge Kaminetz replied.
"I feel like justice has started to be served, yes," commented a teary-eyed Lois Dennis, 36, the mother of the murder victim. "I thought he'd get off. I thought they'd prove his past history caused all this."
The 42-year-old Thanos was convicted last week after a one-day court trial before Judge Kaminetz.
The judge set an execution date of April 27 but issued a stay of that order, pending an automatic appeal to the Maryland Court of Appeals, the state's highest court.
Earlier yesterday, Thanos had told the court that given the choice between life in prison and the death sentence, he would choose life. "I think I'll take the life without parole, with the possibility for escape," Thanos said.
The convicted killer also took the opportunity to criticize the psychiatry profession, to comment on the looks of several women in the courtroom and to urge the judge to make a prompt decision.
"I don't think it should take you too long," Thanos told the judge. "You've had all weekend to think it over."
James McCarthy, one of three public defenders representing Thanos, said Thanos' comments were an "illustration" of the findings of two defense experts who diagnosed Thanos with a mental illness.
It was that illness, borderline personality disorder, that caused Thanos during his robbery of Mr. Taylor to lose control and impulsively shoot the young man, Mr. McCarthy argued.
B. Randall Coates, the state's attorney for Worcester County, argued in his closing that even if Thanos suffers from the mental illness, it was not the cause of the murder.
Likewise, Mr. Coates argued, the troubled childhood of Thanos, his incarceration in an adult prison at age 15 and a life spent mostly behind bars had "absolutely nothing to do with the execution of Gregory Taylor on Aug. 31, 1990.
"Gregory Taylor was executed," Mr. Coates continued, "because he had a car the defendant wanted."
According to trial testimony, including a videotaped confession Thanos gave to police, Mr. Taylor picked up Thanos that Friday afternoon on U.S. 50 near Salisbury. He was then ordered by Thanos to drive to a secluded, dirt logging road north of Salisbury and was shot three times in the head at point-blank range.
"John Thanos' actions are so outrageous," Mr. Coates said, "that the only appropriate sentence is death."
Mr. McCarthy, in his closing arguments, repeated his theme that his client is "sick" and "in this country we don't kill sick people."
"The state's attorney indicates that society must be protected from John Thanos," Mr. McCarthy said. "And we agree. We suggest that there is an alternative and that is life in prison without parole."
In an impassioned oration that was interrupted only once -- when Thanos asked to use the toilet -- Mr. McCarthy ticked off a list of other factors the defense believed mitigated Thanos' crime.
There was his family background, a "dysfunctional" family setting that one defense witness described at length, but which Mr. McCarthy said he suspects was only "the tip of the iceberg."
There was the fact that when Thanos was only 12, mental health professionals said he was in need of crisis intervention, help he never got. There was also Thanos showing a limited amount of remorse "in his confused, twisted way," Mr. McCarthy said.
And there was mercy, he said.
"How dare I stand before the court in this case and say, 'mercy?'" Mr. McCarthy asked, rhetorically. "Mercy, your honor, is not a quality that one earns. It is a quality that is bestowed. . . . So, yes, I boldly stand before this court and ask for mercy for John Thanos."
Thanos is already serving more than 100 years in prison for the kidnapping of a Salisbury cabdriver and the attempted murder of a Salisbury convenience store clerk. He also could receive the death penalty when he is sentenced June 1 in Garrett County for the murders of two Middle River teen-agers.