Thanos defense admits guilt Prosecutor expects to finish case today.

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

OAKLAND -- Lawyers for accused killer John Frederick Thanos today made no objections and declined to cross-examine a succession of state's witnesses who quickly pieced together a picture of the Labor Day 1990 murder of two Middle River teen-agers.

"This case is not about guilt or innocence," said James McCarthy, Thanos' lead attorney, in his opening statement to the jury of seven men and five women. "John Thanos did what he is charged with.

"This case is about sentencing. 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."

The prosecution's case is moving so quickly that Sue A. Schenning, a deputy state's attorney for Baltimore County, said she would finish presenting evidence this afternoon with the dramatic playing of a 28-minute videotaped confession Thanos made Sept. 5, 1990.

"We'll probably go to the jury today," Ms. Schenning said, after a conference with Judge Fred A. Thayer just before lunch break.

So far, the state has proven that Billy Winebrenner, 16, a clerk at the Big Red gasoline station in the 9000 block of Pulaski Highway, was killed by a single gunshot wound to the head.

Dr. Frank J. Peretti, an assistant medical examiner, testified, also, that the youth's girlfriend, Melody Pistorio, 14, was killed by two gunshot wounds -- one to the right temple and one on the top of the head.

Other witnesses described finding the teen-agers lying in pools of blood at the service station around 5 p.m. on Sept. 3, 1990. Police testified that they found four chrome shell casings at the scene.

A Smyrna, Del., police officer testified that at the time of Thanos' arrest, he was carrying a sawed-off .22-caliber semiautomatic rifle, with duct tape around its barrel.

The state introduced a report from a Maryland State Police firearms expert, who said the shell casings found at Big Red were fired by the gun Thanos had at the time of his arrest.

Angela Pistorio, 17, Melody's sister, also testified that a day or two prior to the murder "Nicky," as Melody was known, and Billy brought home a gold watch they bought from a man.

Later, she found the watch in Melody's jewelry box and gave it to police. On its back is inscribed "John S. Thanos," referring to the defendant's father.

At one point today, as Det. Peter S. Evans showed jurors pictures of the crime scene, he held up a close-up shot of Melody, her gunshot wound vividly evident.

One juror flinched at the photo and several others looked quickly away after an initial glance.

"Ladies and gentlemen," Ms. Schenning said, in her opening statement, "you are going to hear about a case of such tragic proportions that it's hard to imagine something worse. You're going to hear about the vile acts committed upon two teen-agers at the hands of this man," pointing at Thanos.

Ms. Schenning outlined the state's evidence and promised the jury they would see the video confession. "You're going to see him on that camera. You're going to see how he was."

Mr. McCarthy, in his opening, conceded almost immediately that his client is guilty of robbery and murder, but he urged jurors not to form an opinion of Thanos "until all the evidence is in."

"There is a history of John Thanos that will help to explain the pathetic coward you see in that video tape," Mr. McCarthy said.

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