The ex-husband of John Wayne’s daughter was sentenced Monday to five years in prison for masterminding an attack that a judge said went “way beyond what a normal husband would do in a divorce situation.”
Dr. Thomas Gionis, 38, appeared calm as he was sentenced for soliciting the beating in which two hired thugs bound Aissa Wayne, 36, and slammed her face into a garage floor on Oct. 3, 1988. Gionis and Wayne were locked in a bitter custody battle at the time.
The attackers also bound Wayne’s then-boyfriend, Roger Luby, pistol-whipping him and slashing his Achilles tendon during the attack at Luby’s Newport Beach estate.
In addition to the prison sentence, Superior Court Judge Theodore E. Millard fined the Pomoma physician $10,000 and ordered him to serve three years’ probation after completing his prison sentence. The judge estimated that, with work credits, Gionis could be free in as little as 2 1/2 years.
Millard set bail for Gionis at $2 million pending an appeal of his conviction. The judge said he was setting such a high bail because he felt Gionis was a flight risk. In addition, Gionis has demonstrated “no remorse and a need to control,” which the judge called “a dangerous combination.”
Gionis was immediately taken into custody after the unusual, daylong sentencing hearing.
The hearing, in which both sides called witnesses and each of the two victims testified, was a microcosm of the trial. It included a rehashing of the couple’s breakup and bitter custody battle over their daughter. It also included defense jabs at the lifestyles of the rich and famous of Newport Beach, as contrasted with the strivings of Gionis, described by his attorneys as an overachieving son of an immigrant plumber.
Luby, who made an impassioned statement in court, said later that he was disappointed that Gionis did not receive a longer sentence, calling him “a controller.” Gionis is “a scoundrel. He belongs in jail,” Luby said.
Wayne, who was accompanied by her mother, Pilar, said, “I hope that he can learn something from this. I’m kind of stunned right now. I think that the crime was so violent, and I think that Judge Millard had a good handle on a little of what Dr. Gionis truly is.”
Wayne said she expected to return to family court to regain full custody of her daughter, Anastasia, now 5, who has been spending weekdays with Gionis and his family.
In denying a new trial for Gionis, Millard said there was abundant evidence of Gionis’ guilt, including telephone calls made from the scene by a private investigator hired by Gionis to carry out the attack and threats voiced by Gionis to others regarding the custody battle.
“Who else would have a motive to do such a thing?” the judge asked. “It wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that an orthopedic surgeon might have something to do with Mr. Luby’s injuries to his Achilles tendon.
Speaking as a former family court judge, Millard said that Gionis’ actions went “way beyond what a normal husband would do in a divorce situation.”
A probation report said Gionis “has certainly not come to terms with the degree of his internalized rage and obsessive need to control, which may manifest in a threatening or lethal manner.”
One of Gionis’ three attorneys replied that Gionis expressed no remorse to the probation officer for his role in the attack on legal grounds, to preserve his position for an appeal of the conviction.
But Millard agreed with the probation report, saying “control is what this trial is about.”
“It truly must be a frightening experience to have two completely unknown thugs . . . come through a gate that’s being closed . . . and then to be attacked, forced on the floor, head beaten in the ground, all kinds of comments being made. . . . I really have to have empathy for the victims in the case. . . . It had to be a traumatizing and brutalizing experience.”
Gionis was tried in 1990 for the attack, but the jury deadlocked. He was represented Monday by two of Orange County’s and one of New York City’s best-known defense attorneys: William J. Kopeny and John D. Barnett, both of whom were involved in defending a Los Angeles police officer in the Rodney G. King beating case; and Bruce Cutler, best known for his defense of mobster John Gotti.
In addition to the probation report, Deputy Dist. Atty. Jeoffrey L. Robinson offered evidence that Gionis was being investigated by the Medical Board of California, which may take his license, for an incident of sexual misconduct with a patient predating the attack on Wayne and Luby. Robinson also cited letters to the judge from Gionis associates alleging financial misconduct and sexual relations with other patients.
“I feel that justice was done,” Robinson said of the sentence. “I think that he is deserving of a state prison sentence, and I only hope that high bail is enough to ensure that he serves his sentence just as any other convicted felon would.”
Last month, Oded Daniel Gal, Gionis’ private investigator, pleaded guilty to four felony counts for his role in the attack. Gal faces up to 5 years and eight months in prison when sentenced July 31.
One of the two men who previously admitted to police that they carried out the attack, Jerrel Hintergardt, is serving an eight-year sentence, which has been upheld by an appeals court. The other, Jeffrey K. Bouey, awaits trial.