ACLU attempt to save Thanos rejected

May 12, 1994|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Sun Staff Writer

A Baltimore Circuit judge refused last night to issue an injunction to stop next week's execution of John Frederick Thanos, as lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union had sought in a civil suit.

Judge Joseph McCurdy Jr. said he was not convinced that there would be "irreparable harm" to Maryland taxpayers if he didn't issue an injunction to stop the execution of Thanos, 44, the confessed killer of three teen-agers. ACLU attorneys filed the suit yesterday, challenging the state's new lethal injection law as unconstitutional because the execution could be botched, causing a slow, torturous death for Thanos.

Susan Goering, an attorney for the ACLU, said the ACLU would appeal Judge McCurdy's ruling to the Court of Special Appeals today.

Thanos, who has refused to appeal three death sentences, is scheduled to die as early as Monday for the murder of Gregory A. Taylor Jr., 18, a welder from Hebron. He also is sentenced to death for the murders of Billy Winebrenner, 16, and Melody Pistorio, 14, whom Thanos killed in the Labor Day 1990 holdup of a Middle River gasoline station where young Winebrenner worked.

In yesterday's hearing, the ACLU called an expert witness who testified that Thanos could suffer if corrections staff members who are to carry out the execution do not properly insert the intravenous needle that will carry the lethal drugs to his body.

Dr. Arthur V. Milholland, a professor of anesthesiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said he has studied the state's protocol for carrying out its first lethal injection execution and feels it could be botched by untrained personnel.

If Thanos' veins are collapsed or scarred, it could be difficult for staff without extensive training to properly insert an IV into a vein, the doctor said. The needle could be accidentally inserted into tissue or muscle, he said.

Dr. Milholland said if that happened, the three drugs used in the execution -- a barbiturate intended to render Thanos unconscious, a muscle relaxer designed to paralyze him and potassium chloride to stop the heart -- might not work as quickly. That would leave the possibility for Thanos to be conscious while suffocating, he testified. However, under cross-examination, Dr. Milholland said if the IV is properly inserted, Thanos will feel no pain, except for the prick of the needle.

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