Jury gets Thanos case for sentence Panel expected to make its life-or-death decision today.

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

OAKLAND -- A psychiatrist for the state testified today that convicted killer John Frederick Thanos is the classic example of a sociopath or psychopath -- a cold, remorseless criminal indifferent to society's norms and others' pain.

"There is nothing to suggest that the illness caused the crime," testified Dr. Michael K. Spodak, a Towson psychiatrist called to the stand as a state rebuttal witness. "What caused the crime is that's what Mr. Thanos chose to do on that day."

Mr. Spodak said that when Thanos, 42, shot and killed teen-agers Billy Winebrenner and Melody Pistorio during a Labor Day 1990 holdup, he knew that what he was doing was wrong and could have stopped himself at any time.

"He was in control," Mr. Spodak said. "It's clear that he had ample opportunities to kill other people and he didn't do it. So in his impulse control, he was discriminate in who he shot."

After Mr. Spodak's testimony, the state rested its case and Garrett County Circuit Court Judge Fred A. Thayer was to give the case to the jury, which must decide whether Thanos gets the death penalty, life in prison without possibility of parole or life with parole.

A verdict was expected tonight.

Earlier, Thanos' two younger sisters tearfully pleaded for his life.

"I don't see where killing my brother will take way any of these victims' 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, 41, of Virginia, his other sister, spoke softly and sobbed into a handkerchief. Asked what effect her brother's execution would have, she said simply, "It would be painful, just like anybody would feel. I have feelings."

Outside the courtroom, Connie Thanos said her brother must be punished, but not with his life. "I don't believe in the death penalty for anybody."

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

But Dianne Thanos said it's been hard to maintain contact with her brother over the last year in light of his crimes.

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

Thanos, who has spent most of his life in prison for rape and armed robbery convictions, threatened prosecutor Sue A. Schenning, and made frequent outbursts.

"The judge took all my pencils and pens away," Thanos complained, upon entering the courtroom today. "So I can't write the press anymore."

Later, after a recess, Thanos said, "I don't care what their decision is," as jurors took their seats. "They can't do a damn thing with my soul. Nobody on the face of this earth [can]."

Yesterday, two experts for the defense testified that Thanos knew that robbing and killing was wrong, but he couldn't stop himself from shooting the teen-agers 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."

In the month leading 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.

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