Lethal-injection table ready for Thanos

May 08, 1994|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Sun Staff Writer

The place John Frederick Thanos may spend his last seconds on earth is a 300-pound steel table, bolted to the floor a few feet from the gas chamber in the Maryland Penitentiary's hospital wing.

The lethal-injection table, which corrections officials displayed yesterday to prove they are ready for their first execution in nearly 33 years, was constructed in April by prison employees.

It stands about 4 feet high -- a rectangle, covered with purple vinyl padding, with arms sticking out of each side.

Thanos, 44, who confessed to killing three teen-agers during a week of crime in 1990, will be brought to the execution room and bound to the table with six leather straps next week -- if appeals to save him fail.

State law forbids corrections officials from announcing the execution's day and time beforehand.

His feet will face a new wall with a long, narrow window, through which six to 12 state-selected witnesses will watch the execution. Until Thanos is strapped down and the intravenous (IV) needle is inserted in his arm, a white curtain will cover the window, said Leonard A. Sipes Jr., a corrections spokesman.

When the curtain is removed, the witnesses, who have not been chosen, will be able to see the rest of the execution.

Mr. Sipes said the execution team will inject three drugs in succession into the IV.

The first will render Thanos unconscious, the second will relax his muscles and the third will stop electrical impulses in his body.

The time from when witnesses get their first glimpse of Thanos until he is executed will span "30 seconds to 2 minutes," Mr. Sipes said.

The six-sided gas chamber, in which four condemned prisoners were executed between 1956 and 1961, faces the witness room, but it will be covered by a curtain.

Before being brought to the execution room, Thanos will spend several days in an adjoining room that has four cells, Mr. Sipes said. He would not say when Thanos will be brought to that room.

By refusing to file further appeals of his three death sentences, Thanos has put himself in jeopardy of becoming the first person executed in Maryland since rapist and killer Nathaniel Lipscomb died in the gas chamber June 10, 1961.

The federal public defenders office in Baltimore and the American Civil Liberties Union, have filed appeals to halt the execution.

In videotaped confessions recorded the day after his arrest, Thanos admitted to shooting Gregory A. Taylor Jr., 18, a welder from Hebron, after the youth gave Thanos, who was hitchhiking, a ride in August 1990. Thanos pulled a gun on young Taylor and ordered him to drive down a deserted logging road, off U.S. 50 near Salisbury.

Thanos said he shot Taylor several times because the youth refused to be tied to a tree and was "whining" too much.

Thanos was convicted in the case and sentenced to die in the gas chamber in March 1992. However, in March the General Assembly passed emergency legislation switching the state's primary execution method to lethal injection -- generally viewed more humane and less open to constitutional challenge.

Thanos could have chosen the gas chamber.

Thanos also has been sentenced to death for the murders of Billy Winebrenner, 16, and Melody Pistorio, 14, during the Labor Day 1990 holdup of a Middle River gasoline station where young Winebrenner worked.

A Garrett County judge is considering whether to issue new death warrants in those slayings.

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