Chief executioner chosen for Thanos

April 22, 1994|By Michael James | Michael James,Sun Staff Writer

Frank Mazzone, whose Maryland law enforcement career spanned four decades and earned him the nickname "supercop," has taken a new job in New Jersey -- but if all goes according to plan, he will return to Baltimore as John Thanos' chief executioner.

Under a contract being worked out with the Maryland Division of Correction, Mr. Mazzone would be paid to be the "execution commander" for Thanos' execution, says Richard A. Lanham Sr., the chief of Maryland's prison system.

"We have submitted requests for approval to bring [Mr. Mazzone] back for a few days," Mr. Lanham says. "He's been instrumental in revamping our execution regulations and procedures. In light of the fact that it's been 32 years since we've done an execution, I feel it's very important to utilize his knowledge and expertise."

Mr. Mazzone, 61, left his job as assistant commissioner of Maryland's prisons two weeks ago to become the director of adult detention in Atlantic County, N.J. He grew up in that area, and his mother still lives there.

Under the Maryland contract -- which would pay him roughly $500 for two days' work -- Mr. Mazzone will be in charge of the "execution team," a small group of correctional employees who will carry out the order to put Thanos to death. Their identities are secret.

The Thanos execution is tentatively scheduled for the week of May 16. Mr. Mazzone says his responsibility as execution commander will "be to oversee the whole thing, from the process itself to related activities, including traffic control outside the Maryland Penitentiary" on the day of the execution.

He says he has prepared countless top-secret manuals and policy books on Maryland's execution procedures in recent months as the state prepares to put a prisoner to death for the first time since killer-rapist Nathaniel Lipscomb died in the gas chamber in 1961.

"We're ready to go. Whether it's gas or whether it's lethal injection, we're ready to go," says Mr. Mazzone, who last year reviewed the death penalty procedures in three states as part of his training.

One of those states was Delaware, which in March 1993 executed James Allen Red Dog by lethal injection.

Thanos has the choice of dying by lethal injection or gas. However, he has refused to choose, meaning he probably will be put to death by lethal injection, Mr. Mazzone says.

"His not choosing is in essence a choice," Mr. Mazzone says. "The law as I understand it is that if he does not choose, he gets lethal injection."

Mr. Mazzone was an assistant commissioner in the Maryland correctional system for 4 1/2 years, after a 29-year career with the state police, where his undercover work won accolades, sensitive assignments and several promotions.

He rose to deputy superintendent -- the department's second-highest rank -- before retiring in July 1989.

Mr. Mazzone, a tall, gray-haired man who was known for his level-headedness in undercover roles, will not discuss the execution procedures and declines to answer many questions.

One question he will answer is whether Thanos -- who is convicted of killing three teen-agers during a week of crime in the summer of 1990 -- would be given a special last meal, as is the practice in many death-penalty states.

"He won't get a last meal of his choice. We are under no obligation to provide him with that," Mr. Mazzone says. "On that day, he'll have the same dinner everyone else in the institution has. No more, no less."

Mr. Lanham, Maryland correction commissioner, says Mr. Mazzone has played a "critical part" in preparing for the execution and has become "a guru on the subject."

"I have no problem with hiring him under a personal service contract to come back for the execution," Mr. Lanham says.

"When I need them, I hire clerks, I hire secretaries," he says. "When you need a specialist for a job, you hire one. And he's a specialist."

The exact amount to be paid hasn't been decided, but Mr. Lanham expects that Mr. Mazzone would be paid an hourly rate based on his old annual salary of $64,000. The hourly rate for that salary is about $31 -- meaning he would be paid $496 for 16 hours of work.

Mr. Mazzone's contract is being reviewed by the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services finance department.

Mr. Lanham says he does not expect any problems.

Thanos, 44, has confessed to killing Billy Winebrenner, 16, and Melody Pistorio, 14, both of Middle River, during a Labor Day 1990 holdup. He also has admitted robbing and murdering Gregory Taylor, 18, a welder from Hebron.

He has expressed no remorse and has refused to appeal his death sentences, insisting he wants to die.

Thanos was at the center of a major controversy in the prison system when it was learned he committed the murders after having been improperly released 18 months early from the Eastern Correctional Institution in Somerset County. He had been serving a seven-year sentence for robbery.

Mr. Mazzone, who developed boot-camp and home-detention programs for the state Department of Corrections, says he has no qualms about overseeing Thanos' execution.

"I have no personal feelings about Mr. Thanos, but I'm certainly in favor of the death penalty under the laws that exist," Mr. Mazzone says. "The procedures call for an execution commander. If they want me to be the commander, then I'll do it."

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