No matter how Maryland's highest court rules on his death sentence, convicted killer John Frederick Thanos cannot be executed for at least a month now that his original death warrant has expired.
The deadline expired at midnight Sunday night without a ruling from the Maryland Court of Appeals on whether Thanos was competent to fire his lawyers and waive further appeals.
The expiration of the death warrant means that the soonest the 44-year-old killer of two Baltimore County teen-agers could be executed is four weeks from the day the Court of Appeals does make its decision -- if the judges rule him competent and say he can waive an automatic 240-day stay of execution provided by Maryland law.
If they rule him incompetent or decide that he cannot waive the 240-day stay, the execution would be delayed until at least April.
If he does go to the gas chamber, Thanos will be the first prisoner executed in Maryland in 32 years.
The seven judges heard arguments in the case Oct. 27 but have not yet issued a decision. They sometimes take months to form their opinions.
Michael Braudes, the public defender who argued that Thanos was not competent when he fired his counsel and waived appeals in September, said the delay is a good sign for defense attorneys.
"It's certainly positive in the sense that a new warrant would have to be set," Mr. Braudes said. "It also indicates the Court of Appeals is somewhat troubled by the case and they're seriously considering it."
Garrett County Circuit Judge Fred A. Thayer signed the death warrant Sept. 27 and ordered the warden of the Maryland Penitentiary to carry out the execution between Nov. 1 and Nov. 8.
The Court of Appeals stayed the execution to give the judges time to decide whether they agreed with Judge Thayer that Thanos was competent and whether the judge erred by allowing Thanos to waive the automatic 240-day stay.
With no death warrant in effect now, a stay is not necessary. If the Court of Appeals rules in favor of the state, Judge Thayer would have to sign a new death warrant. Under state law, an execution must take place no fewer than four weeks and no more than eight weeks from the time the judge signs the death warrant.
Thanos, who admitted robbing and killing Billy Winebrenner, 16, and Melody Pistorio, 14, during a Labor Day 1990 holdup in Middle River, says he wants no further appeals, and the arguments are being made without his permission.
He is also under a death sentence in the robbery and murder of Gregory Taylor, 18, a welder from Hebron. Thanos was convicted and sentenced for that crime in a separate trial in St. Mary's County.