Public defender sees case as issue of sanity He doesn't oppose the death penalty JOHN THANOS--THE STRUGGLE OVER THE DEATH PENALTY

October 27, 1993|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Staff Writer

Michael R. Braudes, who is fighting to save John Frederick Thanos from being executed next week, is not opposed to capital punishment in general.

His concern is that it is "freakishly applied" in Maryland. As an example, he points to Baltimore County which, he says, routinely seeks the death penalty while other counties and Baltimore rarely ask for it.

"I believe that under certain circumstances the death penalty is appropriate, simply as a matter of justice where a perfectly sane person has taken the life of another without justification," said Mr. Braudes of the Maryland Public Defender's appellate division. "However, with Mr. Thanos it is inappropriate because we're dealing with an individual very far from being sane and rational."

Therein lies the crux of his argument.

In his view, Thanos, whose appeals he has handled for nearly two years, has been mentally incompetent since childhood.

The Maryland Court of Appeals will hear arguments today on whether Thanos is competent to waive his appeals and fire his attorneys. Mr. Braudes, 40, hopes the judges will not be too hasty in making their decision.

"The time constraints in the case are totally artificial," said Mr. Braudes, a supervisor in the Public Defender's office.

Though the state's high court already has ruled Thanos was competent at trial, the panel can still find that Thanos was incompetent when he sought to fire his public defender and waive his appellate rights. Mr. Braudes said Thanos' long-standing mental disorder may have become increasingly acute in recent months.

"The particular illness from which Mr. Thanos suffers becomes worse under stress," he said. "There's nothing more stressful than to have the prospect that your life will come to an end in two weeks."

Mr. Braudes insists that Thanos' behavior during last month's court hearing, in which he dismissed his public defenders, proves the three-time killer is incompetent. He also bases his belief on prison conversations with Thanos and psychiatric evaluations dating from when Thanos entered the penal system as a teen-ager. Those reports found that Thanos suffers from personality disorders.

And, he said, Thanos' courtroom outbursts have not made it more difficult to defend him.

"It makes it much easier," he said. "Representing someone whose capacity is reduced by mental illness is far easier in some ways than representing someone who's sane and has done something terrible. He's far less culpable than a sane person."

Since joining the Public Defender's office 13 years ago, Mr. Braudes has worked on nine other capital punishment appeals.

He grew up in Baltimore and the Pikesville-Randallstown area, graduated from Milford Mill High and later received his law degree from the University of Chicago Law School.

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