Thanos calls appeal 'cruel and unusual'

May 07, 1994|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Sun Staff Writer

Acting more like a prosecutor than a condemned killer, John Frederick Thanos yesterday rattled off arguments for why an appeal to save his life should be dismissed.

Standing before Judge Benson E. Legg in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, Thanos, 44, decried efforts by federal public defenders and a Washington law firm to pursue a federal appeal without his permission.

"To me," Thanos said, "what's going on now -- these lawyers who are hound-dogging me -- that's what I call cruel and unusual punishment, not the death sentence."

Judge Legg adjourned the hearing without deciding whether to stay the execution, and without ruling on a motion to dismiss a federal appeal filed by Thanos' mother and sister, as next friends.

The federal public defender's office and the Washington firm of Hogan and Hartson filed the appeal, arguing that Thanos is incompetent and cannot make rational choices about his case.

The judge said he would issue a ruling from the bench on Tuesday.

Reading from notes he made during 3 1/2 hours of legal arguments, Thanos urged Judge Legg to find him competent, to dismiss the appeal and to let the execution take place as scheduled the week of May 16.

Thanos, who fatally shot three Maryland teen-agers during a week of crime in late summer 1990, reminded the judge that he had confessed to killing the teen-agers, that he was sentenced to death and that he accepts his fate.

He has been sentenced to execution by lethal injection for the robbery and murder of Gregory A. Taylor Jr., 18, of Hebron, whom Thanos said he shot because the teen-ager whined and refused to be tied up.

Thanos told the judge he had received a fair trial and that he sees no point in pursuing appeals.

Judge Legg asked Thanos if he believes he is competent.

"Not only do I believe it," Thanos said. "But everyone who comes into contact with me believes it. The people who filed these petitions believe it. But they have an agenda."

Dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit with a blue denim jacket and a baby-blue skull cap, Thanos spent most of the hearing fidgeting, occasionally muttering or chuckling at what he was hearing.

At one point, he made an obscene gesture to a spectator; he cursed under his breath at Denise Barrett, an assistant federal public defender, as she argued that several state court competency findings were flawed.

During a break, Thanos threatened Larry A. Nathans, chief assistant federal public defender, saying, "Hey, Nathans, I'll break your neck."

Thanos told Judge Legg that he was angry with Mr. Nathans for getting his mother and sister to file the appeal without his permission.

He said he accepts his impending death, and had planned for it, figuring out how much coffee, cigarettes, soap and other provisions he needs until the week of May 16.

"If this thing doesn't go off, I'm going to be out of coffee and cigarettes," he said. "And chemically, I'm going to be upset."

"That's Thanos," said Ed Pistorio, father of Melody Pistorio, 14, whom Thanos murdered along with Billy Winebrenner, 16, in a holdup of a Middle River gasoline station. "He likes to antagonize. It's his show. He wants the spotlight on him."

Mr. Nathans urged Judge Legg to stay the execution to hear testimony about Thanos' mental condition.

Mr. Nathans pointed to the affidavits of five mental health professionals who "independently" concluded that Thanos is mentally incompetent -- although each drew the conclusion without talking to Thanos because he refused to be examined.

"They never met me," Thanos argued in rebuttal. "That's conjecture testimony."

Assistant Attorney General Gary E. Bair argued that the appeal should be dismissed because state courts have ruled Thanos competent. And if he is competent, then his family cannot file on his behalf.

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