ACLU attempt to halt execution of Thanos blocked

May 10, 1994|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Sun Staff Writer

An effort by the American Civil Liberties Union to block next week's scheduled execution of killer John Frederick Thanos ran aground yesterday on a legal technicality in Baltimore Circuit Court.

Judge Joseph F. McCurdy Jr. told lawyers for the ACLU that even if he allowed them to intervene in another death row inmate's civil lawsuit that challenges the constitutionality of Maryland's new lethal injection law, that would not allow them to block Thanos execution for killing an 18-year-old Eastern Shore man.

"I do not have the authority to do that, sir," Judge McCurdy said to William J. Mertens, one of three ACLU lawyers in court. "You can't expand the scope of the case."

In other Thanos-related actions, the state Court of Appeals declined yesterday to hear an appeal of a St. Mary's County ruling, and a Garrett County judge has set an execution date for Thanos in two Baltimore County murders.

Judge McCurdy was responding to an action filed by ACLU attorneys last week to intervene in the civil suit filed by Tyrone Gilliam, a death row inmate whose execution date is the week of May 30. The ACLU wanted to intervene on behalf of Maryland taxpayers, arguing that legislators acted too hastily in approving the lethal injection law as an emergency measure in March.

They challenged the new lethal injection law on grounds that it violates federal drug laws by allowing corrections officials to get the drugs used for the execution without a prescription.

Similar claims are being made by lawyers on behalf of Gilliam, scheduled to die for the 1989 shotgun slaying of Christine J. Doerfler, 21, in a $3 robbery.

But Judge McCurdy said a Maryland rule of court which might allow the ACLU to piggyback on the Gilliam civil suit would not allow them different relief, that is, the blocking of the Thanos execution.

Meanwhile, another effort to block the Thanos execution was rejected by the Court of Appeals, the state's highest court. The seven judges said yesterday they would not entertain an appeal by federal public defenders on behalf of Thanos' mother and sister.

Thanos is in jeopardy of becoming the first person executed in Maryland since 1961.

Thanos faces execution sometime next week for the August 1990 robbery and murder of Gregory A. Taylor Jr. of Hebron.

Thanos used Mr. Taylor's car to drive to Baltimore County, where he robbed and killed Billy Winebrenner, 16, and Melody Pistorio, 14, during a Middle River gasoline station holdup on Sept. 3, 1990.

Garrett County Judge Fred A. Thayer has signed a new death warrant for Thanos for those two killings, setting execution for the week of June 12.

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