Don't Bring Back Capital Punishment


An editorial in The Sun yesterday about convicted murderer John Thanos misidentified the county in which the town of Hebron is located. It is in Wicomico County, on Maryland's

Eastern Shore.

The Sun regrets the error.

John Thanos spends his days at the Maryland Penitentiary telling anyone who will listen that he wants to be executed as scheduled early next month. Thanos was sentenced to die last year for the murders of Middle River teen-agers Billy Winebrenner and Melody Pistorio during a 1990 gas station holdup, and for the murder the same year of Gregory A. Taylor Jr., an 18-year-old welder from Hebron in St. Mary's County.

There is no question of Thanos' guilt. By his own admission he is an unrepentant reprobate who would kill again if given the chance. He is a deranged sociopath incapable of rehabilitation.

Thanos has discouraged his attorneys from filing further appeals. He mocks the human rights groups protesting his sentence. He wrote a taunting note to Gov. William Donald Schaefer challenging him to sign the death warrant. On Monday the governor said he would comply with that request. In short, Thanos has done everything possible to enjoy the notoriety of being the first person to die in Maryland's gas chamber since 1961.

Yet no matter how monstrous Thanos' crimes or understandable the public's demand for vengeance, the death penalty has no place in a humane society. The Sun consistently has opposed capital punishment as a barbarous throwback unworthy of a civilized nation under any circumstances.

That is why we urge Governor Schaefer to reconsider commuting Thanos' sentence if the Court of Appeals refuses to stay Thanos' death sentence after reviewing his case today. The case lacks one of the main elements the governor himself has said would make death mandatory in his mind -- the killing of a police officer or prison guard. And there are practical alternatives to the death penalty, including life in prison without possibility of parole -- a prospect far less appealing to Thanos than the quick and spectacular exit he craves. Bringing back the death penalty after all these years represents a step backward in terms of the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society. It is too high a price for Maryland to pay in order to punish one man.

The United States is virtually alone among Western democracies in retaining capital punishment -- this, despite overwhelming evidence it does not deter crime, it is impossible to administer in a racially non-discriminatory manner and its application is arbitrary, capricious and inimical to the values of an enlightened community.

We agree absolutely with public outrage at Thanos' crimes. But the desire for revenge ought not be allowed to return Maryland to a course that is inherently unworkable and immoral. The Thanos case presents the state with an opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to the sanctity of life even when that means refusing to end the life of an incorrigible offender who has shown utter contempt for the lives of others.

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