Jury told Thanos couldn't stop himself from murder Thanos takes stand, delivers a sermon

January 30, 1992|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Sun Staff Correspondent

OAKLAND -- A jury was told yesterday that convicted killer John Frederick Thanos couldn't stop himself from shooting teen-agers Billy Winebrenner and Melody Pistorio in the head during a Labor Day 1990 holdup, even though he knew doing so was wrong.

The reason, a psychiatrist and psychologist told jurors weighing Thanos' fate, was that he has a "borderline personality disorder, with anti-social features."

The illness, symptoms of which are paranoia, depression, suicidal tendencies and self-mutilation, worsens under stress, the two expert witnesses said.

In the month leading up to the Baltimore County teen-agers' killings, Thanos felt helpless, the experts agreed. He had a jaw injury, he felt he was losing the love of a woman he was obsessed with, and he was certain police were planning to send him back to prison, where he has spent most of his 42 years, the experts both said.

"He was feeling agitated" just before the murders, Dr. Thomas Goldman, a Washington psychiatrist, testified. "He was feeling that he had to act out. . . . He acted impulsively. What he did was an obviously terrible and selfish misuse of innocent people, but in his mind he was acting out. . . . He got into a near psychotic, paranoid state. His view of reality was distorted."

The psychologist, Lawrence Donner of Baltimore, agreed with Dr. Goldman's assessment, saying personality tests administered on Thanos, together with Thanos' troubled childhood and prison experience, indicated Thanos is a "very severely disturbed individual."

The sentencing hearing was to continue today with testimony from Thanos' sisters. The hearing could be concluded today, Judge Fred A. Thayer said.

Meanwhile, Thanos, who faces execution in Maryland's gas chamber or life in prison, got his chance yesterday to address the jury.

He responded with a 35-minute sermon in which he said he wanted the jurors' attention, not their "forgiveness or pity," so that he might wake them up from the spell the "evil" prosecution had cast on them.

"Sorrow," Thanos said at one point. "Yeah, I got a lot of sorrow, for a lot of things. Right now, at this moment, my sorrow goes out amongst you in this arena here, for those seeking revenge in the name of justice. So I'm going to try to open your eyes up so you can save yourself from the wrath of God."

He didn't apologize for his crimes, or try to explain them.

"I can't justify anything I ever did, specifically these murders," he said.

The only thing close to an explanation from Thanos was a story about his being in a car accident about a month before the murders.

"I had the right side of my head caved in . . . broken jaw, broken cheek, broken nose, cracked head, broken foot," Thanos told jurors, standing behind a lectern. "Came out of surgery stark raving mad.

"Signed right out of the hospital," he continued. "Went straight to work the next day, too. Mouth wired shut, acting crazy. Everybody around me seen it. For the next month, they seen my mental condition deteriorate."

He complained that the "evil" prosecution kept the accident story out of a pre-sentence report and that his own attorneys failed to mention it because they "couldn't see how to link it up."

Although his attorneys declined to confirm the accident story, Dr. Goldman testified that he had examined hospital records that confirm Thanos' injuries.

Dr. Goldman, meanwhile, in describing Thanos' prison history, irritated Thanos by describing a period of time when Thanos was a homosexual and a cross-dresser.

"For a long time in prison, he was a cross-dresser and acted in an effeminate way," Dr. Goldman said, explaining that Thanos is confused about his sexual identity.

"I think you're confused with the truth," Thanos said. "I think you're evil."

After Judge Thayer warned him to be quiet, Thanos continued, "I want to know why this isn't in the record, why this doctor comes out with this outrageous lie?"

Thanos made another outburst when a prison photograph of him, showing him with a ponytail, braids and long, dangling earrings, was shown to the jury.

"That's definitely a manufactured photograph," he complained.

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