OAKLAND -- After four long days of jury selection, the first-degree murder trial of John Frederick Thanos was to begin today with opening statements from defense and prosecution lawyers here in Garrett County Circuit Court.
Prosecutor Sue A. Schenning says the state would present between 10 and 15 witnesses and could possibly conclude its case by day's end.
The jury of seven men and five women will hear evidence accusing Thanos, 42, of robbing and killing two Middle River teen-agers during a Labor Day 1990 robbery of the Big Red gasoline station in the 9000 block of Pulaski Highway.
Thanos, who was mistakenly released from prison in April 1990, could get the death penalty if convicted. Prosecutors say he coldbloodedly shot and killed Billy Winebrenner, 16, a gas station clerk, and his girlfriend, Melody Pistorio, 14, on Sept. 3, 1990, after the young couple obediently handed over cash to him.
When he was arrested two days later, authorities charged Thanos with a weeklong string of crimes ranging from kidnapping to armed robbery to murder.
Last July, Thanos was convicted by a Wicomico County jury of kidnapping and robbing a Salisbury cabdriver on Aug. 29, 1990. Thanos robbed the cabbie of $55 at gunpoint, then locked him in the trunk of the cab. Thanos is serving a 50-year sentence for that conviction.
Thanos was convicted last March of the robbery and attempted murder of a Salisbury convenience store clerk, Daniel Willey, who was shot once in the head the day before Labor Day 1990. Willey survived. Thanos received a 50-year jail sentence on that conviction.
Meanwhile, in court this week as jury selection dragged on, Thanos tried his best to attract attention to himself.
Yesterday, for instance, he displayed an array of antics that earned him scoldings from Judge Fred A. Thayer.
On one occasion, Thanos told the judge, "I have no respect for you."
"I know that," the judge answered.
Thanos, who has griped that his lawyers will not let him talk with reporters, at one point yesterday, while his three public defenders weren't looking, flashed a handwritten sign that read, "They threw my mail away, too."
He mouthed obscenities at one prosecutor, David P. Lunden, and said, while passing Mrs. Schenning on his way to lunch, "Nice legs."