Gionis Found Guilty in Assault on Wayne : Verdict: Jury in second trial of physician convicts him of masterminding attack on ex-wife and her boyfriend.


An Orange County Superior Court jury Monday convicted a Pomona physician of masterminding an assault on his ex-wife--the daughter of the late actor John Wayne--and her then-boyfriend during a bitter child custody battle in 1988.

Dr. Thomas A. Gionis, 38, faces a maximum of eight years in prison when he is sentenced June 12.

After less than two days of deliberation, the jury found Gionis guilty on all four felony counts against him: conspiracy to commit assault, conspiracy to commit residential trespass, assault with a deadly weapon and assault with a firearm.


The jury in a 1990 trial had deadlocked 9 to 3 in favor of convicting Gionis of the assault on Aissa Wayne and Roger W. Luby at Luby’s $3-million Newport Beach estate.

Gionis was allowed Monday to remain free on $100,000 bail after surrendering his passport. His attorney said he plans to appeal the conviction.

A felony conviction usually means that the California Medical Board begins an investigation that can lead to the lifting of a medical license, according to a board spokeswoman.

Outside the courtroom, Gionis said the jury’s verdict was “very disappointing, and I have complete faith in the judicial system. I’m sure that we will ultimately prevail. . . . We have complete confidence.”

Gionis blamed the verdict on “a predisposition on behalf of the jury to take an adverse look at ex-husbands . . . a predisposition to assume facts that are not in evidence and to deal with visceral feelings, rather than facts.”

Wayne could not be reached for comment.

Wayne and Luby were attacked at gunpoint by two men on Oct. 3, 1988. Wayne’s head was smashed twice against the concrete floor of the garage, requiring numerous stitches, while her hands were bound behind her. Both of Luby’s legs were slashed.


The couple were warned that they were making trouble for “the wrong people.” At the time, Wayne and Gionis were involved in a custody battle over their then-1-year-old daughter, Anastasia.

Both men who carried out the attack later admitted their roles to authorities. Jerrel L. Hintergardt’s eight-year prison sentence was recently upheld by an appeals court. The second man, Jeffrey K. Bouey, is awaiting trial.

Hintergardt and Bouey were employed by a Beverly Hills private investigator named Oded Daniel Gal, who is scheduled to be tried next week.

Gal, in turn, had been hired by Gionis to work on the custody case, and bills and canceled checks introduced at Gionis’ trial indicated that the physician paid Gal about $75,000, including $40,000 around the time of the attack.

In a key strategic move, Deputy Dist. Atty. Jeoffrey L. Robinson chose to call neither Gal nor Bouey, thus avoiding possible savage cross-examinations by the defense about making deals with accused felons.

Instead, the prosecution relied on telephone records documenting a flurry of calls between Gionis and Gal on the day of the attack. At the same time, the records showed a flurry of calls between Gal and Hintergardt and Bouey.


Robinson said “the telephone calls were primarily the case.”

The prosecution’s approach, Robinson said, was that jurors could, “using (their) common sense and logic, determine what those (calls) were all about, even though we didn’t have witnesses to say who was on the other end of the phone, or we didn’t have wiretaps to say what the statement was.”

One juror, Sam C. Sparks, 73, of Garden Grove, later cited the “timing of the phone calls and the grouping of the phone calls, and the flow of money and the timing of that” as critical factors in the jury’s verdict.

Through other witness testimony, Robinson said, “the jury got a full flavor of the dispute Dr. Gionis was going through and also got a full flavor of what Dr. Gionis was truly about. . . . The truth came out--the fact that he was obsessed with winning this custody dispute. . . . This compulsion and his obsession came through loud and clear to the jury.”

Before the trial, there was courthouse speculation about whether Robinson was up to the challenge of Gionis’ flamboyant New York attorney, Bruce Cutler.

Robinson, who complimented Cutler’s legal and entertainment skills several times during the trial, voiced concern in his closing argument that jurors might have been so charmed by the defense attorney that they might confuse him with his client. No matter how much they liked the New Yorker, Robinson cautioned, jurors deciding on a verdict should remember that “he’s not Tom Gionis--he’s Bruce Cutler.”

Robinson received several lengthy, angry admonitions by Superior Court Judge Theodore E. Millard regarding his courtroom manner. Despite that, however, his record of never losing a felony trial remains intact.


Cutler, best known for his successful defenses of mobster John Gotti, was uncharacteristically subdued in the wake of the verdict.

The defense argued during the trial that, for a variety of reasons, the real target of the attack had been Luby--whom Cutler described as a bankrupt “professional litigant”--either because of gambling debts, lawsuits or land deals gone bad. A second line of defense was an incessant, sarcastic indictment of Newport Beach’s “lazy and indulgent” lifestyle of vacations, servants, tennis and aerobics. Cutler referred to Luby as “Uncle Roger” and Robinson as “Jeoff.”

“We’re disappointed with the verdict, naturally,” Cutler said afterward, adding that he plans to appeal.

“We hope and we expect that eventually Tom Gionis will be vindicated completely,” he said.

During the trial, Cutler attempted to dominate the courtroom even when not occupying center stage. During Robinson’s direct examination of Wayne, Cutler objected repeatedly and at length, springing out of his chair with the frequency of a hair-trigger jack-in-the-box.

Admonished by the judge, Cutler promised to “keep the seat belts on.”

Used to stalking larger, more ornate and high-ceilinged courtrooms in New York, the muscular defense attorney seemed as constrained by the Santa Ana courtroom as he was in some of his form-fitting suits.

Cutler had a particularly tough time staying near the centrally placed podium, which in New York courts is located next to the jury box. Despite repeated warnings by the judge and complaints by Robinson, Cutler returned to the jury box during his cross-examination, as if drawn by a magnet. Finally, Cutler said it was his “automatic pilot” that kept pulling him toward the jury.


“If you’re asking me if I had it to do over again, would I have done it differently, the answer is no,” Cutler said. “It’s very difficult to cross-examine people they don’t call.”

After the verdict, Robinson paid tribute to Cutler, noting his adversary’s “combination of talents” and his “tenacity.”

In the final analysis, however, Robinson said, “jurors, at least in this part of the country, are not so concerned with theatrics as they are with the evidence.”

Key Dates in the Gionis Case

Oct. 3, 1988--Aissa Wayne and her companion, Roger W. Luby, are attacked by two assailants as they return from exercise class. The pair are bound, pistol-whipped, slashed with a knife and allegedly told by their attackers: “You’re messing with the wrong people. Next time we’ll kill you.”

April 4, 1989--Dr. Thomas A. Gionis, Wayne’s ex-husband, is arrested on suspicion of conspiracy in the assault on Wayne and her boyfriend.

Nov. 28, 1990--The prosecution begins opening arguments in the trial of Gionis.

Dec. 13--The Gionis case goes to the jury for deliberation.

Dec. 20--A mistrial is declared when the jury is unable to reach a verdict.

April 21, 1992--Gionis’ retrial opens. He is defended by attorney Bruce Cutler, best known for his defense of Mafia figure John Gotti. Cutler argues that there is no connection between Gionis and the two paid assailants convicted of assaulting Wayne and Luby.


May 5--Prosecutor Jeoffrey L. Robinson argues that Gionis paid private detective Oded Daniel Gal to hire the assailants who carried out the assault. He leans heavily on evidence documenting telephone conversations between Gionis and Gal and between Gal and the two assailants.

May 11--After less than two days of deliberation, jurors find Gionis guilty on four felony counts.