Wicomico jury convicts Thanos in Shore robbery Inmate in early release foul-up still faces trial in 3 slayings


SALISBURY -- It took a Wicomico County jury just 20 minutes to convict John F. Thanos, the man accused of murdering three Maryland teen-agers during a six-day crime rampage, of robbing and shooting a convenience store clerk in Salisbury last September.

Thanos was sentenced by Wicomico Circuit Judge Alfred T. Truitt to 50 years in prison for armed robbery and assault with intent to murder.

The 42-year-old Joppa man, who in the past has cursed police officers, spat at a reporter and attempted escape and suicide, sat quietly in the courtroom, apparently resigned to his fate.

"Do whatever you can, because it doesn't matter," Thanos told Judge Truitt before the sentencing. "I'm sure to get the death sentence."

A convicted robber and rapist who has spent more than half his life in prison, Thanos was freed early from a state prison in April 1990 because of an error in calculating his release date from a seven-year robbery sentence.

On Sept. 2, according to testimony at the trial yesterday, Thanos had waited until the assistant manager of Ernie's Market in Salisbury was alone before entering the store about 9 a.m., carrying a sawed-off rifle and a leather bag.

Thanos ordered Daniel Willey, the 48-year-old assistant manager, empty the cash register. After Mr. Willey put $96 in Thanos' satchel, Thanos told him to check under the register drawer. Then Thanos pointed the gun at Mr. Willey's head and fired.

The bullet grazed Mr. Willey's head and lodged itself in the wall behind him.

Delaware State Police Detective Jeffrey W. Bowers, who had questioned Thanos after his arrest in Smyrna, Del., testified that Thanos admitted to the robbery and shooting. "I shot him in the head," Thanos told the detective. "He kept whining, saying, 'Yes sir, no sir.' He only said that because I had a gun. He pissed me off, so I shot him."

W. Burton Anderson, Thanos' attorney, acknowledged the confession but tried to persuade the jury that Thanos was not guilty of assault with intent to murder.

"Mr. Thanos is an armed robber, but he's not a murderer," said Mr. Anderson, who waived his opening statement and presented no witnesses on his client's behalf.

Thanos still faces charges in the slayings of Melody Pistorio, 14, and Billy Winebrenner, 16, who were shot to death Sept. 3 at a Middle River convenience store, and Gregory Allen Taylor, 18, of Hebron, who was shot after giving Thanos a ride on the Eastern Shore on Aug. 31.

Thanos also will be tried in May on charges that he kidnapped and robbed a Salisbury cabdriver, Milton Marsey, on Aug. 29.

On Sept. 4, Thanos was cornered by Smyrna police in the parking lot of a fast-food restaurant after a high-speed car chase. He exchanged gunfire with police until he ran out of bullets and threw the gun out of the car.

The gun, a .22-caliber semiautomatic rifle, was the weapon used in the Ernie's Market robbery, a firearms expert testified. Thanos had bought the gun at a Salisbury sporting goods store, and police believe that he also used it to kill Mr. Taylor. The rifle's 18-inch barrel and ebony stock had been sawed off so that the weapon could be held in one hand.

Seeing the gun in court yesterday brought tears to the eyes of Lois Dennis, the mother of murder victim Gregory Taylor. Ms. Dennis, who attended the trial, declined to comment after Thanos was convicted.

Thanos had been driving Mr. Taylor's car when he was spotted by police in Salisbury on Sept. 4 and chased across the state line into Delaware.

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