Execution stay remains in effect for Thanos Md. appeals court deliberates his fate

November 03, 1993|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Staff Writer

A stay of execution for John Frederick Thanos, who is scheduled to die this week, remained in effect yesterday as the state's highest court continued to deliberate the killer's fate.

Meanwhile, a U.S. District Court judge yesterday asked attorneys in the case a series of probing legal questions, but decided against issuing a federal stay of the execution.

"Right now, everything hinges on the Court of Appeals," said Gary Bair, an assistant attorney general waging the legal fight to make Thanos the first man executed in Maryland in 32 years.

One week ago today , the seven judges on the state's highest court heard arguments on whether Thanos was competent to fire counsel and waive appeals, and whether a judge erred by allowing Thanos to waive a 240-day, automatic stay of the execution.

Thanos, 44, faces execution for killing Billy Winebrenner, 16, and Melody Pistorio, 14, during a Labor Day 1990 holdup of a Middle River gas station where Billy worked. Thanos has confessed to the killings.

Yesterday, U.S. District Judge Benson E. Legg wanted to know what might happen if the Court of Appeals ruled against those trying to save Thanos' life.

Thanos has said he wants no further appeals.

He also said in Garrett County Circuit Court Sept. 27 that he doesn't want to die, but would rather kill again.

Yesterday, Mr. Bair told Judge Legg he believes that if the Court of Appeals rules this week, any federal claims that Thanos' constitutional rights were violated could be dealt with swiftly.

Also, Mr. Bair argued, the federal public defender who plans to file a petition in federal court would have a hard time overturning Judge Frederick A. Thayer III's ruling that Thanos is competent.

According to Mr. Bair, federal law sets a high standard for overturning a state judge's ruling on competency. To overturn Judge Thayer's ruling, a federal judge would need new and compelling evidence that Thanos is incompetent.

If Thanos is competent, his mother and sister, who last week asked for the emergency federal stay, would lack standing to pursue further appeals, Mr. Bair argued.

James Bredar, an assistant federal public defender, said addressing those legal questions is premature, because he has not yet filed a federal petition.

He also declined to respond to Mr. Bair's arguments, saying he doesn't want to argue until the time is right.

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