Execution of Thanos protested

May 16, 1994|By Andrea F. Siegel and JoAnna Daemmrich | Andrea F. Siegel and JoAnna Daemmrich,Sun Staff Writers

With a mock hanging and prayers, more than 60 people protested yesterday afternoon the imminent execution of convicted murderer John Frederick Thanos.

They staged an anti-death penalty, street-theater performance and tried to organize a vigil outside the Maryland Penitentiary, in which Thanos is likely to become the state's first prisoner to be executed in 33 years and the first to die by lethal injection.

Thanos is scheduled to die between 12:01 a.m. today and midnight Saturday unless he appeals or the governor intervenes. Both appeared unlikely.

Thanos was sentenced to death for the murder of Gregory Taylor, an 18-year-old from Hebron he hitched a ride with outside Ocean City. The condemned man is under a separate death sentence for killing two Baltimore County teen-agers, Melody Pistorio and Billy Winebrenner, during his weeklong crime rampage in the summer of 1990.

Human rights activists and death penalty opponents said they could never condone a state execution as the solution to the violence inflicted by Thanos.

"I was always taught that two wrongs don't make a right. It never has and never will," said Diane Trimble, 27, of Baltimore. She carried a sign that read: "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind."

Among the protesters planning a vigil outside the prison on the eastern edge of downtown Baltimore was longtime peace activist Elizabeth McAlister, who said: "I'm just horrified that we're doing this. It's wrong. The state is going to kill that man, and it's wrong. There's not a separate morality for institutions and individuals."

A Washington-based street theater troupe, Wild in the Streets, dramatized what it considered blood on the state's hands in a six-minute play, "A Day in the Life of Our Violent Society."

They depicted children treated callously by adults, a slaying, prison inmates beating each other and unequal scales of justice. For each scene, the actors invited the crowd to gasp. The play culminated with a mock hanging and the surprised executioners staring at their bloody hands.

Amy Markowitz of Takoma Park, one of the actors, said the play was an allegory intended "to dramatize [that] violence happens every day and we're horrified by it. But when the state perpetrates it, we're not."

Other organizations participating included Let Live, a Baltimore group opposing the death penalty; Amnesty International; and Pax Christi, a human rights coalition.

"We are here to show our objection to capital punishment in Maryland. I think it's important to separate the issue of the death penalty from the perpetrator," said Chuck Michaels, a Pax Christi coordinator.

Joseph F. Riener, the coordinator of Let Live, acknowledged that the protest was unlikely to have any impact on the execution.

However, he said, he hoped to create enough of a backlash against the death penalty to prevent another execution. The last person to be executed in Maryland was Nathaniel Lipscomb, a convicted rapist and murderer gassed to death in 1961.

The Swedish section of Amnesty International on Saturday asked Frank Mazzone -- a former assistant commissioner of Maryland's prisons who was hired as the execution commander -- not to participate. The group said it is the first time it has made such a request.

At age 45, Thanos has spent more than half his life in prison. He has refused to appeal the execution and said he has accepted his fate.

His mother and sister argued that Thanos is mentally incompetent, but dropped their last appeal Tuesday in hopes of achieving a reconciliation with him before the execution.

The American Civil Liberties Union made the final, unsuccessful attempt to stay the execution, arguing that the lethal injection could be botched and the condemned man would suffer.

Thanos could be executed at any time this week. Maryland officials are required to keep the date and time secret, giving witnesses three hours' notice and informing Thanos only one hour before he is to die.

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