Thanos sentences upheld

June 08, 1993|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Staff Writer

The Maryland Court of Appeals yesterday upheld death sentences given to John Frederick Thanos for the 1990 murders of two Baltimore County teen-agers, ruling that he was mentally competent when he was tried.

Gary E. Bair, chief of the Maryland Attorney General's criminal appeals division, said the ruling by the state's highest court could clear the way for Thanos, who was sentenced to death in another case, to become the first person executed in Maryland since 1961.

"He could actually be at the head of the line for an actual execution date if he doesn't proceed at all with a post-conviction petition or an appeal to the Supreme Court," Mr. Bair said. "Of all the capital cases, he's the only one who's expressed that he does not want to go through with those appeals."

He said Thanos could be sent to the gas chamber by late this year if he does not appeal and is not granted a stay of execution.

Michael R. Braudes, an assistant state public defender, said Thanos and his lawyers have not decided whether to seek additional appeals. He said the court's ruling makes it very difficult for Thanos to avoid execution.

Mr. Braudes said Thanos, who once told a court he wished he could put his victims and their families through even more anguish, deserves sympathy because he was abused as a child.

"This office does not believe he is an appropriate candidate for execution," he said.

Yesterday's ruling came in Thanos' appeals of death sentences for the murders of Billy Winebrenner, 16, and his girlfriend, Melody Pistorio, 14, during a robbery of an Essex gas station on Sept. 2, 1990.

In April, the appeals court affirmed Thanos' death sentence in the murder of Gregory Taylor, 18, who picked up the hitch-hiking Thanos in rural Worcester County three days before the Essex murders.

Thanos, who confessed to the murders, shot the victims in the head with a sawed-off shotgun.

The appeals court yesterday rejected an argument by Thanos' lawyers that his outbursts during his court trials showed that he was mentally incompetent.

"As opposed to offering blank stares or gibberish from the trial table, Thanos' remarks reveal that he was very interactive with the court," said the opinion written by Chief Judge Robert C. Murphy. "The law only requires that a defendant understand the proceedings, not be at peace with them."

Garrett County Circuit Judge Fred A. Thayer sentenced Thanos to death in June 1992 for the Essex murders.

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