Let Thanos live to regret his crimes

October 27, 1993

It is irrelevant that convicted killer John Thanos now insists he wants to be executed as scheduled in Maryland's gas chamber next month. No matter how heinous his crimes, his case should not be allowed to provoke the reintroduction of a practice Maryland abandoned over a quarter of a century ago as inherently immoral and unworkable.

Thanos was sentenced to die last year for the murders of Middle River teen-agers Billy Winebrenner and Melody Pistorio and of 18-year-old Gregory A. Taylor Jr. of Hebron on the Eastern Shore during a 1990 crime spree. There is no doubt as to Thanos' guilt. He admitted the crimes at his trials and boasted he would kill again given the chance. It is evident that he is a mentally deranged sociopath who is incapable of rehabilitation.

Society's repugnance at Thanos' monstrous acts is undeniable. He deserves the harshest sanctions consistent with the values of an outraged community. But capital punishment has no place in a humane society. It represents a reversion to barbarism that is unconscionable in a civilized nation. By reviving it Maryland would do itself far greater injury than it could ever do by condemning Thanos to a lifetime behind bars.

The Evening Sun consistently has opposed the death penalty on the grounds that it does not deter crime, that it is impossible to administer in a racially non-discriminatory manner and that its application is arbitrary, capricious and inimical to the progress of public morality and institutions.

Every other Western democracy has abandoned capital punishment as a vestige of an earlier stage of social development when retributive justice expressed society's primitive desire for collective revenge. We no longer cut off the hands of thieves nor brand the bosoms of adulterous women. Public execution is a similar anachronism that no longer serves any legitimate social purpose.

Today Maryland's highest court will hear arguments as to whether Thanos was competent to dismiss his attorneys and waive further appeals. While the court is bound by the narrow question before it, Gov. William Donald Schaefer is not. The governor has said he will not commute Thanos' sentence to life imprisonment without possibility of parole -- a prospect in fact more onerous to someone like Thanos than the quick and spectacular demise he now faces -- but we urge Mr. Schaefer to reconsider that decision if the courts reject Thanos' appeals.

Thanos clearly glories in the celebrity that surrounds him as the first person to be executed here since 1961. Let Maryland show its commitment to humane values and its contempt for Thanos' grandstanding by leaving him to rot in prison.

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