Thanos' public defenders scurry to save him

March 02, 1994|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,Sun Staff Writer

Federal public defenders yesterday rushed to file court papers asking a Maryland judge to forgo signing a death warrant on convicted murderer John Thanos, and requesting that he receive a new trial.

The filing, just two days before a 240-day stay of execution runs out, included affidavits from three physicians and a psychologist who said Thanos, 44, is not competent to act in his own interest.

Thanos, who has waived all appeals of his death sentence, was described in the documents as delusional, psychotic and suicidal.

Thanos faces execution for the 1990 robbery and murder of Gregory A. Taylor, 18, a welder from Hebron, as well as a separate death sentence for the murders of two Middle River teen-agers during the same weeklong crime spree.

The petition requests a new trial based on questions of Thanos' mental competency and alleged failures of his defense lawyer.

"Someone had better slow this thing down," Larry A. Nathans, chief assistant federal public defender, said of the pending execution.

"This man is suicidal, he's not acting rationally."

If sent to Maryland' gas chamber, Thanos would be the first person executed in the state in 32 years.

The public defenders, who are representing Thanos' mother and sister, have been joined by the powerful Washington, D.C., law firm of Hogan & Hartson.

The 98-page petition, filed in St. Mary's County Circuit Court, criticizes Thanos' trial lawyers for failing to evaluate his competency at the time of the trial and for failing to alert the court to questions about his competency.

The petition also alleges that his counsel failed to adequately investigate an insanity defense, and conceded guilt during opening statements.

"The petition raises serious questions about whether Mr. Thanos' conviction and sentence can be sustained," Mr. Nathans wrote to Circuit Judge Marvin S. Kaminetz.

In January, Judge Kaminetz ruled that Thanos was competent to make his own decisions.

In affidavits filed with the petition, four doctors described him as severely impaired psychologically and not competent to act in his own best interests.

Failing to further evaluate his psychiatric condition, said Dr. John S. O'Brien, "is ignoring the obvious."

The petition also challenges the constitutionality of Maryland's death penalty statute.

Worcester County prosecutors last week said that if a post-conviction appeal was not filed by the time Thanos' automatic 240-day stay of execution ends tomorrow, they would ask Judge Kaminetz to sign a death warrant that would bring about Mr. Thanos' execution in four to eight weeks.

Thanos also was sentenced to death for the murders of Billy Winebrenner, 16, and Melody Pistorio, 14, during a 1990 holdup of a Middle River gasoline station. The Garrett County judge in that case also found Thanos competent, a ruling that was appealed by public defenders and the American Civil Liberties Union.

The convicted killer would have been executed in that case had Maryland's Court of Appeals not found that he could not waive an automatic stay of execution.

Because of that delay, the St. Mary's County case now takes precedence.

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