Suspect Denies Slaying Trooper

December 12, 1990|By Michael James | Michael James,Contributing writer

One of two men accused in the slaying last March of state police Cpl.

Theodore D. Wolf has denied involvement in a crime that his attorney says is completely out of step with the man's "gentlemanly" nature.

Wolf, a Glen Burnie resident, was shot to death on a stretch of Interstate 95 in Howard County during what was apparently a routine traffic stop.

In his first appearance in Howard County Circuit Court, Eric Tirado, 26, pleaded not guilty yesterday to a seven-count indictment that includes charges of first-degree murder, use of a handgun in commission of a felony, and being an accessory to murder.

Tirado, who was extradited to Maryland from a New York prison last month, appeared casually clad in jeans and tennis shoes, which seemed to reinforce his stoical and laid-back attitude toward the arraignment proceeding, conducted by Circuit Judge James B. Dudley.

Courthouse security workers took a different view. Tight security seemed to be the orders for sheriff's deputies, as Tirado sat in leg shackles and was closely watched by a county sheriff's deputy who stood less than 3 feet away and kept his eyes planted on the suspect.

"Mr. Tirado is holding up real well, especially considering what he's up against," his attorney, Mark Van Bavel, said in an interview before the arraignment. "He's a very well turned-out man, very gentlemanly."

Chief among concerns of Tirado and Van Bavel is whether prosecutors -- who have been tight-lipped about their case against Tirado and the suspected motive in the killing -- will pursue the death penalty.

Howard County State's Attorney William R. Hymes's policy has been to pursue the death penalty for defendants who qualify under state guidelines.

The killing of a police officer in the line of duty falls under those guidelines.

But Assistant State's Attorney Michael Rexroad, who is prosecuting the case, refused to say if his office will seek the death penalty.

Wolf's death March 29 set off a wave of police and public outcry that culminated in a funeral attended by nearly 2,000 police officers from 30 states. The hunt for the trooper's killers became the most widely followed media story in the Baltimore-Washington area.

The publicity surrounding the Wolf case and speculation that the death penalty will be sought "have been a major issue," Van Bavel said. But he says he does not plan to exercise a right to have the trial moved from Howard County. A defendant facing the death penalty has an automatic right to a change of venue.

Tirado's co-defendant, Francisco Rodriguez, 20, is being held in Virginia on unrelated federal drug charges. Prosecutors expect that Rodriguez, who is charged with the same offenses as Tirado, will be extradited to Maryland within the next two months. Tirado is being held without bail in the Howard County jail.

A source close to the state police investigation said Tirado is believed to have been the trigger man in the shooting.

Wolf, 40, was shot to death in his police cruiser in the early morning on Interstate 95 near the trooper's Howard County barracks in Waterloo. He appeared to have been taken by surprise while writing a traffic warning.

Police believe the gunman shot the trooper twice in the head while sitting in the passenger seat.

The two suspects were charged in April after police uncovered evidence in a stolen car recovered in Lansdowne that is believed to have been driven by Wolf's killers. Police and prosecutors have refused to say what they suspect the two men were doing in the Mid-Atlantic region in the days prior to the shooting.

Tirado, a lifelong New York City resident, was identified through fingerprints obtained from the New York Transit Authority police. Tirado had been a cadet with the transit authority before dropping out "due to family difficulty," Van Bavel said.

New York City police charged Tirado with a weapons violation last February and he received a one- to three-year sentence, which he was serving prior to his extradition to Maryland. Tirado had no criminal record prior to that conviction, Van Bavel said.

Van Bavel said Tirado has always been close to his family in New York City; family members are expected to come to Howard County for the April 17 trial.

Before enlisting as a transit authority police cadet, Tirado worked in a small retail department store in New York City, Van Bavel said.

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