Thanos called a 'menace to society' Jury is asked to sentence convicted killer to death.

January 28, 1992|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Staff Correspondent

OAKLAND -- John Frederick Thanos, a convicted rapist, kidnapper, armed robber and murderer, should die in Maryland's gas chamber to send a message to Thanos "that we will not tolerate you in society," a prosecutor said today, at the opening of Thanos' sentencing hearing.

But James McCarthy, one of three public defenders appointed to represent Thanos, said that despite Thanos' crimes and his own desire to die, he should be imprisoned for life, without possibility of parole.

"We don't look at the guy on the ledge and say, 'Jump,' " Mr. McCarthy told the jury. "So even if John Thanos has expressed a desire to die, I suggest to you that we cannot cooperate in that request."

Sue A. Schenning, a deputy state's attorney for Baltimore County, in her opening reminded the jury, which convicted Thanos on Friday of the robbery and murder of two Middle River teen-agers, of Thanos' own cold-blooded, videotaped accounts of the murders.

"It's no coincidence that he chose children" as his victims, she said, "because he wanted his acts to be atrocious."

Ms. Schenning then carefully went over the sentencing form and attacked the defense contention that Thanos, 42, was suffering from a "sickness" that led him to rob and kill Billy Winebrenner, 16, and Melody Pisotorio, 14, on Labor Day 1990 at the Big Red gasoline station where Billy worked.

"He has committed sick, horrible acts," Ms. Schenning said. "But he knew full well what he was doing. And he knew it was against the law."

She further characterized him as a "menace to society" and a "danger in every setting he's ever been in. He was a danger as a child. He was a bully in school."

The prosecutor highlighted a string of assaults and other offenses Thanos committed while serving a 21-year sentence for rape, including escape, threatening prison guards and stabbing a fellow inmate.

Mr. McCarthy, acknowledging his client's horrible acts, said they were the product of a childhood fraught with abuse and an adolescence spent with hardened prisoners.

John Thanos Sr., Mr. McCarthy said, was a "sadistic, abusive father" who savagely beat his son and raped young Thanos' sister.

Although there were danger signs when Thanos was 8 and 13 years old -- social workers recommended counseling -- the elder Thanos refused to allow counseling, Mr. McCarthy said.

Thanos was released from prison by mistake in April 1990. Between Aug. 29, 1990, and his arrest six days later, Thanos allegedly committed a string of crimes involving robbery, kidnapping and murder.

In March 1991, a Wicomico County Circuit Court jury convicted Thanos of the Sept. 2, 1990, robbery and attempted murder of a Salisbury convenience store clerk. A judge sentenced him to 50 years in prison.

Last September, another Wicomico Circuit Court jury deliberated for just six minutes before convicting Thanos of the Aug. 29, 1990, robbery and kidnapping of a Salisbury cab driver, whom Thanos locked in the cab trunk after robbing him of $55. Thanos got 50 years for those offenses.

Thanos also faces trial in Worcester County on March 9 in the robbery and slaying of Gregory A. Taylor, a Salisbury-area man who gave Thanos a ride. The state is seeking the death penalty in that case, also.

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