Foes of death penalty gather in rain at prison Protest staged to spare Thanos JOHN THANOS -- THE STRUGGLE OVER THE DEATH PENALTY

November 01, 1993|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Staff Writer

About 50 demonstrators gathered yesterday near the Maryland Penitentiary to urge that killer John Thanos be spared the death penalty.

"We are here to declare that the violence on city streets in America, the violence in private homes in America, the violence of the mass media in America must come to an end. It is a violence which continues in the acceptance and implementation the death penalty," vigil organizer Chuck Michaels told those gathered in the cold drizzle.

"We are here today to tell those who support the death penalty that they are not the enemy," Mr. Michaels said. "The enemy is no less than violence itself, the evil that walks our streets, the wholesale acceptance of violence in our culture and the complete failure of various social systems to respond effectively to it."

The vigil was organized by the Maryland Coalition to Abolish State Executions, which includes groups such as Pax Christi, the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International and Let Live, a Baltimore-based campaign against capital punishment.

The location of the protest was chosen for its proximity to the gas chamber -- in the penitentiary hospital area -- that would be put in use for the first time in more than three decades if the legal efforts to stop Thanos' execution fail.

Thanos, who has said he wants no further appeal, was scheduled to die this week. But his public defenders and the American Civil Liberties Union won a stay of execution while the Court of Appeals decides whether he is competent.

Many of the protesters gathered on Madison Street yesterday held an umbrella in one hand and a candle in the other.

"I don't want the governor or any other official in the state killing in our names," said Herb Hoelter, a member of the Roman Catholic St. William of York parish in Baltimore and an official in the National Center on Institutional Alternatives, a national criminal justice organization.

Joe Reiner of Let Live told the crowd, "If nothing else, we are telling the state of Maryland we notice they are going about the business of killing a human being." He asked each of the protesters to enlist 10 friends in the cause. "The people we have today are not enough to overturn the death penalty statute. We are only enough to get noticed."

One man in the crowd broke in to ask Mr. Reiner if he was saying killers should "get away with murder." Mr. Reiner pointed toward the Maryland Penitentiary and said, "I think the punishment is to be incarcerated over there."

As the drizzle turned to rain, the vigil was brought to a quick end with Melissa McDiarmid of Pax Christi reading a passage from the book of Deuteronomy.

"I call heaven and earth to record this day against you," she read, "that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing. Therefore, choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live."

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