State says Thanos' kin can't act to save him

March 15, 1994|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Sun Staff Writer

If convicted killer John F. Thanos is mentally competent and is willing to die in Maryland's gas chamber, his relatives have no standing to try to stop next month's execution, prosecutors argued yesterday.

In a 54-page petition filed in St. Mary's County Circuit Court, Worcester County prosecutors and lawyers for the Maryland attorney general's office argued that, because Thanos is competent, his mother and sister have no standing to file an appeal without his permission.

On March 1, Pattie Matney, Thanos' mother, and Diane Genco, his sister, filed a post-conviction appeal as "next friends," asking that a death warrant not be issued and that Thanos be granted a new trial. In legal terminology, a "next friend" is someone -- usually a relative -- who files a legal action on behalf of someone else who is not considered legally competent.

Their appeal, filed by federal public defenders and a Washington law firm on their behalf, argued that Thanos is not capable of rational decisions.

If the last-minute appeals fail, Thanos will become the first person to die in Maryland's gas chamber since rapist and killer Nathaniel Lipscomb was executed in June 1961.

Last week, St. Mary's County Circuit Judge Marvin S. Kaminetz reaffirmed his belief that Thanos is competent and signed a death warrant for his execution during the week of April 25 for the 1990 robbery and murder of Gregory Taylor, 18, a welder from Hebron.

Thanos admitted in a videotaped confession that Mr. Taylor had picked him up while he was hitchhiking near Berlin on the Eastern Shore. He said he pulled a gun, forced Mr. Taylor to drive into the woods and then shot the young welder because he was "whining" and refused to be tied up. The trial was moved to St. Mary's County.

Since his conviction and death sentence for Mr. Taylor's murder, Thanos has insisted that he wants no further appeals and has fired his state public defenders.

Thanos also is under two separate death sentences for the robbery and shooting deaths of Billy Winebrenner, 16, and Melody Pistorio, 14, during the Sept. 3, 1990, holdup of a Baltimore County gasoline station.

He was originally scheduled to be executed for the Baltimore County killings in November, but the Court of Appeals ruled that he could not waive an automatic 240-day stay provided by Maryland law. The ruling also applied to the Taylor murder, and the stay of execution for that crime expired first, on March 3, switching the focus to the Taylor case.

Gary E. Bair, an assistant attorney general, said yesterday he does not know which St. Mary's County judge will hear the appeal, although by law it must be someone other than Judge Kaminetz, who presided over the trial.

The prosecutor has asked that the appeal be dismissed without a court hearing. In yesterday's filing, he noted that Thanos has been ruled competent six times within the last year -- three times by Maryland's highest court, once by a Garrett County judge in the Baltimore County murders and twice by Judge Kaminetz in the Taylor case.

As recently as Jan. 28, Thanos appeared before Judge Kaminetz and reaffirmed his desire to waive further appeals.

Referring to Thanos' mother and sister, Mr. Bair argued, "A supposed next friend, armed with nothing more than his own self-appointment as the protector of the prisoner's interests can inflict . . . unique and irreparable harm to the defendant's wishes."

Responding to the prosecution's filing yesterday, the lawyers representing Thanos' relatives said the prosecution's argument "fails to examine the serious medical and moral implications of the case" and relies instead on "hyper-technical legal grounds."

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