ACLU appeal may be last chance to save Thanos

May 13, 1994|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writers Norris P. West and Jay Apperson contributed to this article.

The American Civil Liberties Union is expected today to ask a state appellate court to stay the execution of John Frederick Thanos so the court can hold a hearing on the constitutionality of the state's lethal injection law.

ACLU attorney Susan Goering said her group filed notice of appeal yesterday, and today will ask the Court of Special Appeals for a stay. Ms. Goering said if the state's second-highest court doesn't grant it, the ACLU will seek a quick hearing.

The appeal might be the last thing that could halt the execution of Thanos, 44, who admitted killing three teen-agers during a week of crime in late summer 1990.

Thanos could die by lethal injection as soon as midnight Sunday when the warrant for his execution takes effect for the murder of Gregory A. Taylor, 18, of Hebron.

But the state corrections department can carry out the execution any time from Monday through May 22.

And except for hand-picked witnesses, who as yet have not been named, no one will know in advance what time and on what day the execution will take place, said Leonard A. Sipes Jr., director of public information for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

State law forbids a prior announcement, Mr. Sipes said.

The execution will be announced only after it takes place, he said.

By his refusal to pursue appeals, Thanos has put himself in the position of becoming the first person executed in Maryland in 33 years.

When a judge this week threw out a federal appeal by his mother and sister, Thanos said, "Thank you."

His mother and sister have now ceased their efforts to halt his execution, leaving only the ACLU appeal as a possible roadblock to his death.

William Mertens, one of the attorneys challenging lethal injection, said the method to be used by the state could cause Thanos to suffer a long time.

"The procedures the Division of Correction has adopted aren't the procedures the legislature authorized," Mr. Mertens said, referring to the lethal injection bill passed this year. "The procedures the Division of Correction is going to follow create a real unforeseeable risk that this will be a torturous, prolonged, agonizing death, not a painless, quick one."

Death penalty opponents already are gearing up to demonstrate against the impending execution. Several groups said they will be outside the Maryland Penitentiary from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Joseph F. Riener, coordinator of Let Live, said, "I think we're just going to have to go through this doggone execution, and people are really going to have to see that it doesn't improve safety and is not going to do anything except to take the life of a deranged person."

Meanwhile, a Baltimore Circuit judge yesterday threw out a case in which another death row inmate argued that his execution should be stopped because the new lethal injection law is unconstitutional.

In dismissing the suit filed on behalf of Tyrone Delano Gilliam, Judge Joseph P. McCurdy Jr. cited testimony from a professor of anesthesiology that the death would not be lingering. ACLU attorneys had tried to intervene in the Gilliam case as a way of stopping Thanos' execution but Judge McCurdy told them Monday the execution could not be stopped by piggybacking on the Gilliam suit.

Gilliam, convicted in the 1988 shotgun slaying of a Northeast Baltimore woman he kidnapped and robbed of $3, had asked for an injunction to prevent his execution, scheduled for the week of May 30.

His lawyer, Jerome H. Nickerson Jr., also said lethal injection could cause a "lingering death" in violation of constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

He said lethal injection violates federal law requiring that drugs be employed only for listed applications. The drugs are not explicitly approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in executions, he said.

After the hearing, Mr. Nickerson said he would appeal Judge McCurdy's ruling to the state Court of Appeals. He also said he would seek an injunction today in U.S. District Court in Washington to stop the execution, arguing that it violates the law.

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