St. Mary's judge signs death warrant for Thanos

March 08, 1994|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Sun Staff Writer

Convicted killer John Frederick Thanos took a giant legal step toward the gas chamber yesterday when a Circuit Court judge signed a death warrant calling for his execution during the week of April 25.

The unrepentant Thanos would become the first person put to death in Maryland in more than three decades -- depending on the outcome of a last appeal filed by a federal public defender on behalf of the killer's mother and sister.

In signing the warrant, St. Mary's Circuit Judge Marvin S. Kaminetz disregarded a request from Larry A. Nathans, the chief assistant federal public defender in Baltimore who asked that he wait until the petition filed on behalf of the relatives last week is litigated.

Thanos, 44, who was convicted of killing three-teen-agers in a weeklong crime spree across Maryland in the late summer of 1990, has said he wants no further appeal and tried to fire his state public defenders last summer. The lawyers challenged his move, saying Thanos was not mentally competent.

In November, the Court of Appeals -- Maryland's highest -- ruled that Thanos was competent to waive future appeals and fire his attorney but said he could not waive a mandatory 240-day post-conviction stay.

With that stay of execution expiring, Judge Kaminetz signed the death warrant late yesterday afternoon -- before being asked to do so by prosecutors, said Gary E. Bair, an assistant Maryland attorney general.

Mr. Bair said his office had drafted a letter requesting the judge sign the death warrant but had not mailed it. "He just went ahead and did it on his own," Mr. Bair said.

The public defender, Mr. Nathans, declined to comment on the judge's action.

Thanos was convicted of murder in the deaths of Gregory Taylor, 18, a welder from Hebron on the Eastern Shore whose car he stole; and Billy Winebrenner, 16, and Melody Pistorio, 14, who were gunned down during a robbery of the Middle River gas station where Billy worked.

Mr. Nathans filed the lengthy appeal on behalf of the killer's mother and sister as the 240-day stay of execution was about to end.

He argued that Thanos suffers from severe mental illness and is not competent, and that three state public defenders who represented him at trial failed to adequately defend him.

Mr. Bair said he will push for Mr. Nathan's post-conviction petition to be dismissed, arguing that Thanos is competent and that his sister and mother do not have legal standing to file the appeal on his behalf.

In a post-conviction proceeding, a judge other than the trial judge is to decide whether errors deprived the defendant of a fair trial. When the Thanos case goes back to St. Mary's County for a hearing, a judge other than Judge Kaminetz will preside.

If Thanos is found competent again -- the Court of Appeals and a Garrett County judge ruled him competent three times last year -- he could become the first person executed in Maryland since killer-rapist Nathaniel Lipscomb was strapped to a seat in the Maryland Penitentiary gas chamber in 1961.

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