Gov. William Donald Schaefer yesterday rejected pleas from a group of Christian leaders that he halt the impending execution of convicted killer John Frederick Thanos.
Mr. Schaefer told 10 church leaders meeting in Baltimore that he would not commute Thanos' death sentence to life in prison, although he would work with them in the future to abolish the death penalty.
Thanos, 44, is scheduled to die in the gas chamber the first week in November for killing two Baltimore County teen-agers during a weeklong crime spree in 1990.
The execution order from a Garrett County Circuit Court judge has been stayed pending arguments tomorrow before Maryland's highest court.
If the death sentence goes forward, the execution will be the first in Maryland in 32 years.
After the closed meeting, Mr. Schaefer told reporters, "I listened. They were absolutely sincere, but I told them I am not going to change my mind as far as Thanos is concerned. I will not commute [his death penalty] to life in prison. But I will work with them to change the death penalty to life without parole."
The governor's refusal to stop Thanos' pending execution did not surprise the clergymen. But the church leaders said they felt obligated to let the governor know that they morally oppose the death penalty.
The governor's rejection of the church leaders' pleas "was what we expected," said the Rev. George Paul Mocko, bishop of the Delaware-Maryland Synod Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
"He had made his views on this clear. We did not expect to change his mind. But it was important for us as religious leaders to make our point," the bishop said.
The Rev. Herbert Valentine, executive presbyter of the Presbytery of Baltimore, said after the meeting, "We felt importantly in the Thanos case that the moral imperative be made clear. [Mr. Schaefer] was gracious and quite anguished.
"We weren't there to dictate or pound the table, but morally we felt an obligation to make clear where we stood."
The death penalty, he said, "is not a deterrent for crime. "It gives a little sense of venting one's vengeance, but other than that it sanctions a form of violence in its own right."
Richard J. Dowling, executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference, who also attended the meeting, said the governor told the group that he is generally not "supportive of the death penalty, except where a police officer is murdered in the execution of his or her duties, or in the case of a vicious rape or as here in the Thanos situation."
After the meeting at the Sheraton Inner Harbor Hotel, Mr. Schaefer said that he supports the death penalty for Thanos because "he [Thanos] said he would kill again. He said he would kill the judge. There's no question of his guilt."
When asked if he would attend Thanos' execution, the governor said emphatically, "I will not be present. It's not a stage, not a circus. This is something that should be done ahead of time, unannounced," so the public won't be aware of it until after the fact.