Thanos trial's 'shock' value Testimony starts in teens' murders.

January 24, 1992|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Staff Correspondent

OAKLAND -- Opening statements began today in the first-degree-murder trial of John Frederick Thanos with the prosecution calmly describing its evidence against the defendant in Garrett County Circuit Court.

Besides a videotaped confession, Sue A. Schenning, a prosecutor, said the state would introduce a gold watch and shell casings that would prove Thanos killed two Middle River teen-agers.

"That's the evidence you're going to hear," Ms. Schenning said. "It's going to shock you. It's going to horrify you . . . but you'll be convinced the defendant is guilty."

James McCarthy, one of the public defenders, said in his opening statement "this case is not about guilt or innocence. . . . John Thanos did what he is charged with."

"This case is about sentencing," Mr. McCarthy continued. "This case is about death. It's about the death of these two young people. It's about the death of John Thanos, either in Maryland's gas chamber or in a cold prison cell."

Commenting on the confession, which Mr. McCarthy called "the most devastating" piece of evidence he'd seen in his legal career, Mr. McCarthy said "you look at that tape and inside each of you you're going to say, 'This guy is sick.' In this country, in this state, we don't kill sick people."

The trial portion began today after four long days of jury selection.

Ms. Schenning says the state would present 10 to 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 the two teen-agers during a Labor Day 1990 robbery of the Big Red gasoline station on 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.

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. Mr. Willey survived. Thanos received a 50-year jail sentence on that conviction.

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