Unrepentant Thanos put to death

May 17, 1994|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writers Sandy Banisky, Scott Higham and David Michael Ettlin contributed to this report.

John Frederick Thanos, the unrepentant killer of three teen-agers in a weeklong 1990 crime rampage, was put to death early today at the Maryland Penitentiary -- the first person executed here in 33 years.

Thanos was pronounced dead at 1:10 a.m., his body strapped to a 300-pound steel table in Maryland's first execution by lethal injection.

The remorseless, arrogant murderer, clad in an orange prison jumpsuit, met his fate at the hands of anonymous prison officials who injected three drugs into a blood vessel in his leg. The first drug rendered him unconscious, the second paralyzed his muscles, and the third stopped his heart.

While a handful of demonstrators for and against the execution paraded outside the prison, Thanos' final moments were observed by a dozen witnesses and, at Thanos' request, two priests.

As the official witnesses, including a Sun reporter, entered a room adjacent to the death chamber shortly before 1 a.m., Thanos was lying on his back, strapped to the table. He was wearing a blue skull cap, and his head, resting on a pillow, was turned toward the witnesses' table. He was shoeless but wore white socks.

Execution commander Frank Mazzone asked if the condemned man wanted to proceed.

"Get on with it," Thanos replied.

Asked if he had any last words, Thanos said, "Adios."

And, as the drugs administered through a vein in his leg began to take effect, Thanos uttered his final words: "Here it comes now."

He was looking up at the ceiling when his mouth went slack and his eyes fluttered and shut. His chest continued to rise and fall for several minutes, then stopped. He showed no sign of distress.

Mr. Mazzone said the intravenous lines were put in Thanos' legs because he had been a drug user and the veins in his arms were not suitable. Officials said Thanos received oral doses of the tranquilizer Valium twice during the day to combat nervousness.

In a statement released moments after the execution, Gov. William Donald Schaefer said he had weighed arguments on both sides of the capital punishment issue before deciding not to intervene.

"In the end," he said, "I was moved by the appeals from the victims' families. People are suffering because of these crimes, and their lives will never be the same. We have a responsibility to the families, to recognize what they have been through, and to not disregard their pain."

Word of the execution brought cheers from a group waiting in the Essex home of Ed Pistorio, whose daughter, Melody, 14, was one of the murder victims.

In his final evening, the 45-year-old Thanos received a standard prison dinner and was informed of the time of his execution about an hour before being led from his hospital wing cell into the execution chamber at 12:27 a.m.

Time not announced

The time of the execution was not announced in advance in accordance with a 1922 state law, when the death penalty was carried out at public hangings.

The official witnesses -- six from the news media, the others chosen by state public safety officials -- were given three hours notice and gathered at 11 p.m. in Pikesville at state police headquarters.

A psychologist tried to assure that "they had no problems and were willing to go through the process" before they were driven in two vans to the penitentiary, according to state corrections spokesman Leonard A. Sipes Jr.

Thanos, who had declared himself an outlaw and once said he yearned to die in a blazing gunfight with police, hastened his own execution by refusing to appeal his convictions and opposing attempts by others to spare his life.

The last legal maneuver to halt the execution was an emergency request by Tyrone Gilliam, one of the 13 killers remaining on Maryland's death row, for an injunction against the state's new lethal injection statute. It was denied without comment yesterday by U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist.

Thanos died within feet of the gas chamber where the state last carried out a death sentence on June 9, 1961, executing Nathaniel Lipscomb for the rape and strangulation of three East Baltimore women over a two-week period in late 1958 and early 1959.

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the death sentence nationwide in 1972, telling the states to draft more equitable laws -- statutes that it began affirming as constitutional in 1976.

Thanos was the 240th person executed in the United States since 1977, when killer Gary Gilmore was dispatched by a Utah firing squad. Fourteen prisoners have been put to death nationwide this year.

Thanos' execution was carried out under a death warrant for his murder of Gregory A. Taylor Jr., a welder from Hebron who picked him up hitchhiking Aug. 31, 1990, along U.S. 50 on the Eastern Shore.

In a telephone interview from her Hebron home, Mr. Taylor's tearful mother, Lois Dennis, 38, said, "It's been ongoing for four years and every time we believed that it was about to end something changed."

Waiting for it

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