Appeal to stop Thanos execution is dismissed

April 16, 1994|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Sun Staff Writer

LEONARDTOWN -- A typical death-row inmate probably would be discouraged when an appeal to save his life fails, but not John Frederick Thanos. He has never been typical.

Yesterday, a Circuit Judge dismissed a post-conviction appeal that aimed to spare Thanos' life, saying Thanos' sister and mother did not have legal standing to file such an appeal without his permission.

"I think she made a wise ruling," Thanos said in response to Judge Audrey E. Melbourne's decision.

The inmate, 44, killed three teen-agers in late summer of 1990 during a week of crime. He is to be executed the week of May 16 for the robbery and murder of Gregory Taylor, 18, a welder from Hebron. He was convicted in St. Mary's Circuit Court here.

The confessed killer has expressed no remorse and has placed himself in jeopardy of becoming the first person executed in Maryland since 1961 because he refuses to pursue further appeals of his death sentences.

After dismissing the appeal, Judge Melbourne declared that she would not issue a stay of Thanos' execution. However, the May execution date may still be delayed.

Larry Nathans, chief assistant federal public defender in Baltimore, said his office would appeal Judge Melbourne's ruling to the Court of Appeals, Maryland's highest court. Two other appeals -- one in federal court and one in Baltimore Circuit Court -- also could delay the execution. The federal public defender is handling the appeals in both state and federal courts.

Judge Melbourne listened to about 90 minutes of arguments before dismissing the appeal filed by federal public defenders and a Washington law firm on behalf of Thanos' mother, Pattie Matney, and his sister, Diane Genco.

They filed the appeal as "next friends" of the killer, arguing that he was not mentally competent to make rational choices about his case.

"You can't walk down the street to your neighbor's house and say, 'I'm going to file a suit on your behalf, because I'm your next friend,' " Judge Melbourne told federal Public Defender Denise Barrett. Ms. Barrett said that Thanos is incompetent, and that therefore his family could appeal on his behalf.

Ms. Barrett argued that because Thanos' competency has never been fully explored in a courtroom, his mother's and sister's lawyers were entitled to such an evidentiary hearing -- with the testimony of psychiatrists and other experts.

She said that a competency hearing last fall in Garrett County lacked depth, and that in any event, the judge's finding in that hearing could not be applied to the St. Mary's County case.

Judge Melbourne said Maryland law is "clear" in requiring the defendant to be a minor, mentally incompetent or physically unable to gain access to the court in order for someone else to file a post-conviction petition without his permission. None of those situations applies to Thanos, the judge said.

Ms. Barrett argued that Judge Marvin S. Kaminetz, who heard the St. Mary's case, ruled that Thanos was competent without benefit of expert testimony from psychiatrists and psychologists.

Judge Melbourne paused to correct Ms. Barrett and referred to several experts who testified during Thanos' sentencing hearing in March 1992.

As she struggled to remember them all, Thanos helped her out by stating two of the names.

"You're right," the judge said. "I forgot about them."

LEGAL CHRONOLOGY OF THE JOHN THANOS CASE

* Sept. 5, 1990: In the same interview in which he confesses to killing three teen-agers, Thanos tells detectives he wants to spare the state the expense of a trial, plead guilty and be executed. He refuses to speak to Public Defender Burton Anderson.

* Sept. 11, 1990: Mr. Anderson persuades Thanos to let him represent him. "I convinced him that the state would not execute him unless he had a lawyer," Mr. Anderson wrote in an affidavit. "Mr. Thanos agreed to allow me to represent him provided his case was expedited."

* January 1992: Thanos is convicted of murdering Billy Winebrenner, 16, and Melody Pistorio, 14, both of Middle River, during a Labor Day 1990 holdup.

* March 1992: Thanos is convicted of murdering Gregory Taylor, 18, of Hebron. Judge Marvin S. Kaminetz sentences him to death.

* April 1992: Thanos writes a letter to Gov. William Donald Schaefer, stating he wants no appeals after his two mandatory appeals to the state Court of Appeals.

* June 1992: Thanos is sentenced to death for the murders of the Middle River teen-agers. He tells Garrett County Judge Fred A. Thayer, "If I could bring those brats back right now from their graves, I would do so, so that I could murder them again before their eyes as they cringe in fear and horror."

* June and July 1993: The Court of Appeals upholds Thanos convictions and death sentences.

* September 1993: Judge Thayer rules Thanos is competent and can fire his state public defenders and waive rights to future appeals. The public defenders appeal.

* November 1993: The Court of Appeals rules that Thanos is competent, and can fire his attorneys. However, they rule he cannot waive a mandatory 240-day stay of execution.

* March 1: Just two days before the 240-day stay runs out, Thanos' mother and sister file a state post-conviction appeal on his behalf, as "next friends."

* March 29: Judge Kaminetz signs a new death warrant, calling for Thanos to be executed by lethal injection -- to comply with a new law. He sets the execution for the week of May 16.

* Monday: Thanos writes to Judge Audrey E. Melbourne, complaining about the appeal filed by his mother and sister without his permission. "The realities are (1) I murdered three people, (2) I was sentenced to death for each one and (3) I accept those realities."

* Yesterday: Judge Melbourne dismisses the appeal.

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