As next month's scheduled execution of killer John Frederick Thanos draws near, the only certain thing about the Thanos case is that there will be more appeals.
This week, the federal public defender in Baltimore and a Washington law firm filed an "application for leave to appeal" to the Court of Appeals, the state's highest court.
The appeal argued that Circuit Judge Audrey E. Melbourne erred last week when she dismissed a state appeal filed on Thanos' behalf -- but without his permission -- by his mother and sister, as "next friends." The judge ruled they could not file without Thanos' permission.
Thanos, 44, is the confessed killer of three teen-agers -- Billy Winebrenner, 16, and Melody Pistorio, 14, in a Middle River robbery, and Greg ory Taylor, 18, of Hebron in a robbery in Worcester County -- during a weeklong crime spree in 1990. The latest appeal relates to Thanos' sentence in the Taylor case.
By firing his state public defenders and refusing to pursue further appeals, Thanos put himself in jeopardy of becoming the first person executed in Maryland since June 1961.
"He's not going to die in May," Ed Pistorio, the father of Melody, said yesterday. "He's only going to die when the public defender gets tired of filing appeals."
In the 18-page appeal, lawyers for Thanos' mother and sister wrote that Judge's Melbourne's ruling is "clearly erroneous."
They said Maryland historically has allowed next friends to file appeals on behalf of inmates physically or mentally unable to file on their own behalf. They also say Thanos suffers from a mental illness that renders him legally incompetent.
Gary E. Bair, an assistant attorney general, said yesterday that his office will file an answer to the latest appeal next week, asking the Court of Appeals not to consider it.
"I think the contemplation is to have the court rule before May 16," said Mr. Bair, referring to the week of the scheduled execution.
Pattie Matney and Diane Genco, Thanos' mother and sister, do not have an automatic right to take an appeal to the Court of Appeals. The high court can choose to hear the appeal or not, said Mr. Bair.
If the court elects to hear it, Mr. Bair said, he will push to have the oral arguments the week before the execution date, so the court can rule before then if it wishes.
Even if the latest appeal fails, federal public defenders still can file a federal habeas corpus appeal as well as challenge Thanos' competency in Baltimore Circuit Court.
Meanwhile, a prosecutor in Baltimore County has asked Garrett County Judge Fred A. Thayer to sign another death warrant for Thanos for the murder of the two county teen-agers. A 240-day stay of his death sentence expires May 5. The case was moved to Garrett County in a change of venue.