Thanos guilty on all counts in robbery, slayings

January 25, 1992|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Sun Staff Correspondent

OAKLAND -- John Frederick Thanos sat back in his chair and yawned last night as a Garrett County Circuit Court jury pronounced him guilty of the robbery and murders of two Middle River teen-agers, Billy Winebrenner and Melody Pistorio.

The jury of seven men and five women took just 35 minutes to convict Thanos of all charges -- two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of robbery with a dangerous weapon and one count of using a handgun in the commission of a felony.

After the verdict, Judge Fred A. Thayer excused the jury until Tuesday, when they will return and be asked to sentence Thanos to death or to life in prison.

"He's just scum," said Carl Marty Winebrenner. Mr. Winebrenner's 16-year-old son, Billy, was killed in 1990 during a Labor Day holdup at the Big Red gasoline station in the 9000 block of Pulaski Highway where he worked. "He doesn't deserve to live."

"I'm happy with the outcome," Mr. Winebrenner continued. "It's like a 10-ton brick off my chest."

Angela Pistorio, 17, whose sister, Melody, had been killed during the same robbery as she stood beside her boyfriend, Billy, said Thanos should get the death penalty. "Most definitely," she said. "I mean, he's spent most of his life in jail already and he hasn't learned anything. So what good would keeping him in jail do?"

After the verdict, relatives of the slain teen-agers stood outside the courtroom talking with reporters and hugging one another. Mr. Winebrenner wiped tears from his face.

The trial had proceeded at a breakneck pace yesterday, with prosecutors Sue A. Schenning and David P. Lunden calling eight witnesses to the stand and introducing 10 exhibits, including an explosive videotaped confession.

Jury selection had taken four days, while the trial and jury deliberations took just one.

James McCarthy, Thanos' lead attorney in the case, acknowledged his client's guilt in his opening statement. He and his co-counsels, W. Burton Anderson and William Kanwisher, raised no objections and declined to cross-examine the state's witnesses.

Their only request had been to ask Judge Thayer to let the jurors watch the 28-minute videotaped confession a second time -- but this time without a transcript.

Mr. McCarthy said he wanted the jury to be able to closely watch Thanos and to understand him.

In the tape, Thanos, 42, has a gray blanket draped over his shoulders and smokes a cigarette as he describes how he

robbed and killed the two Middle River teen-agers. He appears somewhat bored and yawns more than once.

Acknowledging that on Sept. 2, 1990, he pawned a gold watch bearing his name to Billy and Melody for $20 in cash and $10 in gas, Thanos says: "I really just wanted the basics to keep me alive so I could kill until they could kill me, and, goddamn, I'm still alive and in pain."

Mr. McCarthy, in his opening and closing arguments, referred frequently to Thanos' "pain" and promised the jury that the defense would introduce evidence explaining the defendant.

At one point, Mr. McCarthy held up a childhood snapshot of Thanos to the jury and declared that the defense would present evidence as to "what turned this kid into this man."

Prosecutor Schenning, in her rebuttal, scorned the references to Thanos' pain, resulting in a brief outburst from Thanos.

"You just heard Mr. McCarthy stand here before you and talk about how John Thanos was in pain," Ms. Schenning said to the jurors. "He was troubled. He was sick."

"Well," she continued, moving toward Thanos and pointing a finger at him, "I say to you that if being vicious, being vile and being evil, as he sits here in the courtroom . . ."

"You're evil," Thanos growled.

Ms. Schenning tried again, raising her voice. Thanos repeated, "You're evil." Judge Thayer ordered him to be quiet. Ms. Schenning, nearly shouting, said again, "He is vicious. He is vile. He is evil."

"You're evil," Thanos said a third time.

Ms. Schenning continued: "But did you notice that he never ever once referred to pain with reference to anyone else? That's because he doesn't care about anyone else. Because he's coldblooded. He doesn't care about anything but himself."

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