How big was public tab for defense of Thanos?

April 12, 1992|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Staff Writer

The Baltimore County state's attorney's office spent nearly $10,000 to prosecute convicted killer John Frederick Thanos during a two-week January trial in Garrett County.

The public defender's office spent more than that representing Thanos, 42, whom a Garrett County jury convicted Jan. 24 of robbing and killing two Middle River teen-agers, Billy Winebrenner, 16, and Melody Pistorio, 14, during a Labor Day 1990 holdup at the gas station where Billy worked.

But just how much more, the public defender's office refuses to say.

Citing attorney-client privilege, it denied The Sun's request for a list of out-of-pocket expenses incurred during the trial, which ended in mistrial during the sentencing phase.

Thanos faces two possible death sentences when he is resentenced June 1.

Ronald A. Karasic, deputy public defender for the state, said in a letter that revealing how much was paid to expert witnesses and how much was spent on meals, motel costs and other expenses, could harm Thanos during the resentencing.

"Moreover," Mr. Karasic wrote, "these documents would divulge defense strategy and the extent of contacts with Mr. Thanos."

Last week, The Sun filed suit in Baltimore City Circuit Court under the Maryland Public Information Act to try to find out how much taxpayer money was spent defending Thanos.

"The public defender's office is just dead wrong on this one," said Jeffrey C. Smith, in-house counsel for The Sun.

For the prosecution, the single biggest expense was $4,800 paid to Dr. Michael K. Spodak, a Towson psychiatrist called during the sentencing phase.

Dr. Spodak, who testified that Thanos knew that robbing and killing was wrong and that he could have stopped himself, was on the stand when Garrett County Judge Fred A. Thayer declared the mistrial.

The judge explained that he felt Dr. Spodak had improperly considered a psychiatric evaluation of Thanos done by doctors at the Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center. Thanos had been examined by those doctors without being warned that what he told them could be used against him in court.

Dr. Spodak was the prosecution's lone expert witness. The defense called four expert witnesses to testify -- a Baltimore psychologist, a Washington psychiatrist, a New Jersey expert in social work, and a prisons expert from West Virginia.

Other expenses the prosecution incurred included:

* $1,828 to rent a condominium for David Lunden, an assistant state's attorney, during the two weeks of trial and for several days before the trial.

* $780 to rent a condominium for Sue A. Schenning, a deputy state's attorney for Baltimore County.

* $713 for meals, mileage and other expenses incurred by Mrs. Schenning and Mr. Lunden.

* $1,411 for meals and motel rooms for the family of the murder victims and for five other witnesses.

Mrs. Schenning said those amounts were "about average" for death penalty cases moved to other jurisdictions.

The public defender's office had three attorneys in Garrett County during the trial, and a fourth public defender was there for several days. The defense also called in Thanos' two sisters, one of whom lives in Virginia and the other in Hawaii, to testify on his behalf.

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