Thanos' own words a state weapon Confession to be used in his trial for killing of two teens.

January 23, 1992|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Staff Correspondent

OAKLAND -- As potential jurors continued to be questioned today about their feelings on the death penalty, parole and victim-impact evidence, a bored John Frederick Thanos leaned back in his chair and napped.

Mr. Thanos, on trial here for the robbery and murder of two Middle River teen-agers, faces death if convicted. But since the case began Monday, he has acted anything but like a man on trial for his life.

Today, for instance, Judge Fred A. Thayer sternly warned Mr. Thanos to be quiet, as Mr. Thanos was making comments to reporters.

Later, David P. Lunden, a prosecutor, complained to Judge Thayer that Mr. Thanos was staring at him and had "mouthed profanities."

And at lunch time, as Mr. Thanos was being led from the courtroom, he passed prosecutor Sue A. Shenning and, looking down, said, "Nice legs."

Lawyers here say they would probably finish jury selection today and have opening statements tomorrow.

When prosecutors finally do present their case against Mr. Thanos, one of their best weapons will be a 28-minute videotaped confession, in which Mr. Thanos coldly details how he robbed and killed the two teen-agers who he said treated him "perfectly good."

In a 19-page transcript of the tape contained in the court file, an unremorseful Mr. Thanos said he had been to the Big Red gasoline station in the 9000 block of Pulaski Highway on Sept. 2, 1990.

He said he pawned his father's gold watch to Billy Winebrenner, 16, the clerk at the station, and his girlfriend, Melody Pistorio, 14, for $20 and $10 worth of gas.

Mr. Thanos said he drove back to the Big Red station Sept. 3 with the intention of retrieving the watch and robbing and killing the young couple. He told police that he was perfectly sober at the time.

He never bothered to retrieve the watch. About 4:30 p.m. that day, Mr. Thanos said, he walked into the station carrying a brown leather doctor's bag, which concealed his weapon, a sawed-off .22-caliber semiautomatic rifle he had bought in Salisbury for $170. He said he pulled the gun from the bag and ordered Billy, whom he described as a "fuzzy-headed kid," to fill the bag with cash.

A frightened Melody, whom Mr. Thanos described as "pudgy," stood behind the counter with Billy as he silently complied.

"Soon as I got the bag" back, Mr. Thanos said, "I, ah, raised my weapon. Shot him in the head as he tried to duck. Shot her in the head as she tried to duck. Shot him twice again in the head, just to be sure. I think I shot him twice again. And I shot her one more time, I think."

Blood from Melody splattered on his gun and, Mr. Thanos said, "I spit on it" to clean the weapon.

"What if anything did the kids do behind the counter to provoke you into shooting them?" Baltimore County Homicide Detective Michael Peregoy asked Thanos.

"Oh, nothing at all," Mr. Thanos replied. "Nothing at all."

"How did they treat you?" Detective Peregoy asked.

"Perfectly good."

An incredulous Detective Peregoy responded, "Perfectly good?"

and Mr. Thanos launched into a long-winded explanation for his rampage across Maryland that week.

Mr. Thanos, who has spent most of his 42 years in prison, had been released from prison on April 5, 1990 -- by mistake. He was living in Salisbury and things were going well until on Aug. 25, 1990, a woman who had given the hitchhiking Mr. Thanos a ride filed charges against him, claiming that he had exposed himself to her.

In his confession, Mr. Thanos said the woman accused him falsely, but he knew that he had violated his parole and would likely be sent back to prison. Outraged, he said he decided to become an "outlaw" and commit a string of "outrageous things, because I wanted the police to be able to come down on me heavy, in a shootout so they could put me out of my pain."

He complained on the videotape that police failed to kill him during two shootouts just before his arrest in Smyrna, Del., on Sept. 5.

The videotape, made Sept. 5, 1990, at the Berlin barracks of the Maryland State Police shortly after Mr. Thanos' arrest, has never been publicly shown.

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