LEONARDTOWN -- The mother of a slain Eastern Shore teen-ager says the death sentence handed to killer John F. Thanos "is the best justice I have seen since my boy was murdered."
Lois Dennis, 36, of Hebron, says she doubts she'll live long
enough to see the sentence carried out, however.
"We can only hope" for the execution, she said last night after a St. Mary's County judge sentenced Thanos to die in the gas NTC chamber. "But unless John Thanos decides himself to ask for it, I don't think I'll live to see it," she said, alluding to an appeals process that could become lengthy.
Circuit Judge Marvin S. Kaminetz deliberated 9 1/2 hours before condemning Thanos, 42, for killing Gregory A. Taylor Jr., 18, a welder from Hebron. He set an execution date of April 27.
The judge's decision will be automatically reviewed by the Maryland Court of Appeals, the state's highest court.
There are 10 other Maryland inmates facing the death penalty, according to state corrections officials. The last execution in Maryland occurred June 10, 1961.
Judge Kaminetz said he considered Thanos' troubled childhood, his mental illness and an "inappropriate incarceration" at age 15 in an adult prison.
But the judge said those mitigating circumstances were outweighed by the brutal nature of the robbery and killing of Mr. Taylor. "Therefore, the court determines the sentence . . . to be death," the judge said.
"Is that death by gas?" Thanos asked, with no display of emotion.
"Death by lethal gas," Judge Kaminetz replied.
Thanos was convicted last week at a one-day non-jury trial before Judge Kaminetz.
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 psychiatric profession, to comment on the appearance 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 said. "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 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 imprisonment 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 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. Thanos then ordered him to drive to a secluded dirt logging road north of Salisbury and shot him 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 argument, 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 said 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 assessment from mental health professionals when Thanos was 12 that he was in need of crisis intervention, but he never got help. And there was also a demonstration by Thanos of a limited amount of remorse "in his confused, twisted way," Mr. McCarthy said.
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.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.