ACLU seeks to block use of lethal injections

May 03, 1994|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer Glenn Small contributed to this article.

The American Civil Liberties Union moved yesterday to block the state's use of lethal injection for executions, claiming legislators trampled on important safeguards in their rush to approve the emergency measure in March.

The action was filed as Maryland prepares this month for its first two executions since 1962.

"If the state is going to use taxpayers' money to execute its citizens -- the only irreversible punishment it doles out -- it has to do it legally and with the greatest of care," said ACLU attorney William Mertens.

John Frederick Thanos is scheduled to be executed the week of May 16 for the murder of Gregory Taylor, 18, a welder from Hebron. He is also under a death sentence for the murders of Billy Winebrenner, 16, and Melody Pistorio, 14, who were killed during a holdup of a gasoline station in Middle River.

A second death row inmate, Donald Thomas, is scheduled to die the week of May 30. Thomas was convicted in the 1981 deaths of Donald Spurling, a former state police officer, and Spurling's wife, Sarah, who were stabbed repeatedly in an armed robbery at their home in Arbutus.

According to the suit:

* State officials plan for the injections to be administered by a person with no previous experience in executions, which could result in suffering by the inmate and violate protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

* The statute allows any pharmacist to dispense the drugs for the execution without a prescription, ignoring federal laws banning dispensing of drugs in that manner.

* The commissioner of corrections developed the state's execution protocol without complying with state laws requiring public notice and public comment on new regulations.

"The state wanted to implement this very quickly," said ACLU legal director Susan Goering. "But when the government rushes, mistakes get made. I think that's what happened here."

Efforts to reach state officials were unsuccessful yesterday. They plan to announce the execution procedures Saturday.

The suit was filed in Baltimore Circuit Court on behalf of several Maryland taxpayers and is scheduled for a hearing Monday.

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