Gilliam's execution set for next month

March 16, 1994|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,Sun Staff Writer

A Baltimore County judge has issued a death warrant for the week of April 11 for the execution of Tyrone Delano Gilliam Jr., who was convicted of the 1988 shotgun slaying of a woman he kidnapped and robbed of $3.

The warrant puts Gilliam's execution a week ahead of that of convicted killer John F. Thanos, but lawyers expect that appeals will delay the case for months or years.

Whichever execution occurs first would be the first in Maryland since 1961.

Judge John F. Fader II signed the death order March 7, almost five years after finding Gilliam guilty in a nonjury trial in the sawed-off shotgun slaying of Christine J. Doerfler, 21. On Oct. 31, 1989, he sentenced Gilliam to death.

On Friday, Baltimore County Circuit Judge John Grason Turnbull II refused to reconsider a post-conviction petition filed by Gilliam's attorneys, and, on Monday, Judge Fader refused their emergency petition to stay his execution order.

Larry Polen, one of Gilliam's attorneys, yesterday declined to say what his next step would be. But Gary E. Bair, chief of criminal appeals for the Maryland attorney general's office, said state and federal appeals probably will delay Gilliam's execution by as long as two years.

That means John F. Thanos "is still going to be at the front, unless he changes his mind or unless some court finds him incompetent," Mr. Bair said. Thanos, 44, has said he wants no appeals and has fired his attorneys.

A St. Mary's County judge signed a death warrant for Thanos for the week of April 25 in the 1990 murder and robbery of Gregory Taylor, 18, a welder from Hebron on Maryland's Eastern Shore. Thanos is also under separate death sentences for the murders of Billy Winebrenner, 16, and Melody Pistorio, 14, in a Middle River gas station robbery during the same week.

If Thanos were to change his mind and appeal as Gilliam has, he probably would be able to delay his execution for years, too, Mr. Bair said. But he has not done so, and Thanos is alive today only because the courts ruled that he could not waive a 240-day automatic stay of execution.

That stay doesn't apply to Gilliam, 27, whose conviction has been upheld twice by the Maryland Court of Appeals. The U.S. Supreme Court twice has refused to consider his case, most recently on Jan. 14.

At his trial, prosecutors said that during a night of drinking and drug using on Dec. 2, 1988, Gilliam told companions that he was going to use his sawed-off shotgun to kill a woman. They drove to Baltimore County, started looking and eventually abducted Miss Doerfler from the parking lot of her sister's Rossville apartment complex. Miss Doerfler, a hardware store clerk, was shot once in the back of the head.

The death warrant contains the usual language about execution by lethal gas, but Judge Fader added a handwritten note authorizing "any other means of execution as determined by the legislature in accord with any provisions of the law that may be enacted in 1994, effective as of the date of execution."

Maryland is the last state to rely solely on the gas chamber, provoking challenges by Gilliam and several other death row inmates who argue that it violates the Constitution's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

Emergency bills to change the method of execution to lethal injection -- but give current death row inmates a choice -- have passed both houses of the General Assembly this session, with minor differences to be resolved. They would take effect on passage.

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