Thanos couldn't stop himself, jury told He takes the 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 during a Labor Day 1990 holdup, even though he knew it 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, with symptoms of paranoia, depression, suicidal tendencies and self-mutilation, worsens under stress, the 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, felt he was losing the love of a woman he was obsessed with, and was certain police were planning to send him back to prison, where he has spent most of his 42 years, they 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."

Psychologist Lawrence Donner of Baltimore agreed, saying personality tests, together with Thanos' troubled childhood and prison experience, indicated he is a "very severely disturbed individual."

Thanos, who faces execution or life in prison, got his chance yesterday to address the jury. In a 35-minute sermon, 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. "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.

The only thing close to an explanation 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," Thanos 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."

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

Dr. Goldman, describing Thanos' prison history, irritated him by describing a time when he 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.

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