Thanos' sisters beg court for mercy Case may go to jury today for life-or-death decision.

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

OAKLAND -- The two younger sisters of convicted killer John Frederick Thanos today tearfully pleaded for their brother's life.

"I don't see where killing my brother will take away any of these victim's families' pain," said Dianne Thanos, 33, a bookkeeper who lives in Hawaii. "You'll only be hurting me and the rest of my family."

Connie Thanos, his other sister, spoke softly and sobbed into a handkerchief. Asked what effect her brother's execution would have on her, she said simply, "It would be painful, just like anybody would feel. I have feelings, too."

Both sisters said they have kept in touch with their brother over the years through letters and an occasional prison visit.

But Diane Thanos said that, in light of her brother's crimes, it's been hard for her to maintain contact with him over the past year.

"It's been very traumatic for me, to try to carry on my life and be involved with him," she testified.

Diane Thanos also said that she noticed over the years that prison had its effect on her brother. "He gradually was just not as compassionate toward humanity."

After the sisters' testimony, the defense rested its case. Prosecutors said they would have one rebuttal witness, then expected the case to go to the jury today in Garrett County Circuit Court to decide whether Thanos gets the death penalty or life in prison for the murder of two Middle River teenagers.

Yesterday, two experts for the defense testified that Thanos knew that robbing and killing Billy Winebrenner and Melody Pistorio in a Labor Day 1990 holdup was wrong, but he couldn't stop himself from shooting the teenagers in the head, because he suffers from a mental illness.

The reason, the witnesses said, was that Thanos 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 with whom he was obsessed, 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, said Dr. Thomas Goldman, a Washington psychiatrist. "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, show 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."

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