Bid to stop Thanos execution goes to federal court

April 29, 1994|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer Marcia Myers contributed to this article.

Lawyers attempting to stop the execution of John Frederick Thanos, the confessed killer of three teen-agers who won't appeal his death sentence himself, have taken their effort to federal court in Baltimore.

Federal public defenders and a Washington law firm filed a 130-page petition Tuesday in U.S. District Court, arguing that Thanos, 44, is mentally incompetent and his mother and sister should be allowed to appeal on his behalf as "next friends." The appeal also argues that Thanos' trial attorneys -- state public defenders -- were ineffective because they should have challenged his competency at trial.

The federal appeal also challenges the Maryland death penalty statute and the state's new lethal injection law as unconstitutional, said Larry A. Nathans, chief assistant federal public defender in Baltimore.

The main obstacle for the federal public defenders is the same as in a similar state appeal filed in March, when state lawyers argued that Thanos' mother and his sister do not have legal standing to file any appeals for him without his permission. Two weeks ago, a Circuit Court judge agreed and dismissed the state appeal filed by Thanos' mother and sister. The federal public defenders are appealing that decision, but the Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, has not decided whether to hear the appeal.

By firing his attorneys and refusing to pursue further appeals, Thanos has sped his journey toward execution. He is scheduled to die by lethal injection the week of May 16. He would be the first person executed in Maryland in nearly 33 years.

The last man executed was Benjamin Lipscomb, who raped and strangled three women in Baltimore. He was executed in June 1961. Gary E. Bair, an assistant attorney general, said yesterday he will file a motion to dismiss the federal appeal, arguing that Thanos' relatives cannot appeal without his consent.

Thanos has written angry letters opposing efforts to forestall his execution for the August 1990 robbery and murder of Gregory Taylor, 18, of Hebron on the Eastern Shore.

Mr. Taylor was killed for his car during a week in which Thanos also murdered Billy Winebrenner, 16, a Middle River gasoline station clerk, and his girlfriend, Melody Pistorio, 14, on Labor Day 1990.

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