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.
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, conducted by Circuit Judge James B. Dudley.
Courthouse security workers took a less casual approach. 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 who stood less than three 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 the capital punishment 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 on 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 police think Tirado was the trigger man in the shooting.
Wolf, 40, of Anne Arundel County, 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.