U.S. District judge orders public defender to see Thanos


A U.S. District Court judge has ordered federal public defender James Breeder to meet with death-row inmate John Thanos to ask him if he is willing to file appeals to delay his execution.

If Mr. Breeder finds Thanos -- who thus far has resolutely refused to file any appeals -- still unwilling, the attorney must meet with the convict's family to determine if they want to file appeals on his behalf. Judge Walter Black issued the order to Mr. Breeder Thursday.

Thanos, 43, convicted of killing three teen-agers during a weeklong 1990 crime spree, is scheduled to die in Maryland's gas chamber the week of Nov. 1 for the robbery and murder of two Baltimore County teen-agers.

Meanwhile, anti-death penalty advocates seeking to prevent the execution are planning that they will take their case to the public and make a personal appeal to Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who can stay the execution for any reason.

Though a Garrett County judge stayed the execution earlier this week, it could still come in November if Maryland's highest court dismisses an appeal filed by the public defender's office. The Court of Appeals will hear arguments Oct. 27.

Last week, Thanos waived his right to further appeals and fired his public defender. His former attorney argues that Thanos is not competent to waive those rights.

Yesterday, death penalty opponents brainstormed for arguments against Thanos' execution at a meeting in Baltimore. In the end, they decided to attack the planned execution on several fronts. Religious leaders like the Rev. Edward H. Heim, director of the Lutheran Office on Public Policy, plan to ask religious leaders to make a personal appeal to Governor Schaefer.

Ed Donnellan, a teacher at a local Catholic school, suggested that the group organize a news conference and demonstrate outside the Maryland Penitentiary.

"We need a very visible press conference to let people know there is opposition [to the death penalty], and it's widespread," he said.

The group also proposed a letter-writing campaign aimed at the governor. These letters to newspapers and the governor would try to convince him to stay the execution.

Unlike most states with a death penalty, Maryland does not require its governor to get involved in the process by signing a death warrant. He can intervene, however, by signing a stay of execution.

So far, Governor Schaefer has not gotten involved, but is studying the Thanos case, said Paige W. Boinest, his press secretary. She said it was unlikely he would get involved while an appeal is pending before the Court of Appeals.

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