Murderer's life as abused child recalled at hearing Thanos' "sadistic" father beat him, social worker says.

January 29, 1992|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Staff Correspondent

OAKLAND -- John Thanos Sr., a shell-shocked World War II veteran with strict ways, drank too much, beat his wife, raped his daughter and liked to say he was the devil.

Yesterday in Garrett County Circuit Court, where his son, John "Freddie" Thanos faces the possibility of the death penalty for murdering two Middle River teen-agers, a social worker testified that the elder Thanos vented much of his "sadistic" behavior on his only son.

The father, who died in 1982, was jealous of his son, frequently beat him, punched him, kicked him, humiliated him and terrorized him by turning all the lights off in the house and playing "bogeyman," said Cecelia "Cessie" Alfonso, a certified social worker from Jersey City, N.J.

Young Thanos, said Ms. Alfonso, would cower in the dark, terrified, as his father went about the darkened house, wearing glasses and suddenly shining a flashlight on his face.

"When [Freddie] was approximately 4 years old," Ms. Alfonso told the jury, "he was kicked in the scrotum by his father, causing swelling and bleeding and bed-wetting.

"He was a boy who was subjected repeatedly to physical and psychological abuse," she continued. Mr. Thanos would "push him, he would trip him, he would beat him. He would pull his hair. He would kick him."

Ms. Alfonso, who was accepted as an expert witness by Circuit Judge Fred A. Thayer, gathered an extensive family history of Freddie, as he was known as a child, by interviewing Thanos' mother, aunt and two sisters.

She said she spent 21 1/2 hours interviewing the family.

She also reviewed records of treatment Thanos received at Spring Grove Hospital in the 1960s. Her study covered him only until age 15. Her testimony was the first brick in a tower of evidence defense attorney James McCarthy said would be presented to explain how Thanos, 42, became the "sick guy" who coldbloodedly shot and killed Billy Winebrenner, 16, and his girlfriend, Melody Pistorio, 14, during a robbery of the Big Red gasoline station in the 900 block of Pulaski Highway on Labor Day 1990.

Billy, who worked at the station, was shot once in the head, after he had quietly handed over all the cash from the register. Melody was shot twice in the head at point-blank range.

Mr. McCarthy, in remarks at the beginning of Thanos' sentencing hearing yesterday, said the jury would hear from Thanos' sisters, from psychiatrists and from Thanos himself.

Urging the jury to continue to have an open mind, Mr. McCarthy said they would come to see that the appropriate penalty for Thanos is life in prison without possibility of parole, rather than execution in Maryland's gas chamber.

Sue A. Schenning, a deputy state's attorney from Baltimore County, reminded the jury that in deciding whether Thanos gets the death penalty, they must weigh so-called "mitigating circumstances" or those things that make the crime less serious, against the aggravating nature of the murders of his teen-age victims.

Noting that there would be testimony about Thanos' mental state, Mrs. Schenning told the jury it would not prove that Thanos didn't know what he was doing at the time, or couldn't control himself.

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

Ms. Alfonso, who used two huge charts to document Thanos' family tree, said that Thanos' grandfather, Steven Thanos, used to beat his children "with whatever was in his hand. He beat one of his children with a hammer."

Mr. Thanos, according to one of his daughters, would drug his wife, Patti, with sleeping pills, then slip into his daughter's bedroom at night and rape her -- all while young Freddie was in the same room.

But under cross-examination, Mrs. Schenning zeroed in on several incidents that Ms. Alfonso did not include in her report. On several trips to the beach, she noted, Thanos tried to drown his sister by holding her under the water until she went limp, and he cut the head off her pet duck.

Mrs. Schenning asked Ms. Alfonso if she thought those incidents were significant, and Ms. Alfonso answered, "Yes."

"But you didn't include them in your report?"

"No."

Mrs. Schenning also got Ms. Alfonso to say that she believes Thanos is dangerous and that the father was a hard worker who provided well for his family.

At the day's start, Thanos was asked by a reporter what sentence he wants to get.

"I don't know," he said. "I do know. I'm not sorry."

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