Attorney Challenges Identification Of Trooper's Killer

April 21, 1991|By Michael James | Michael James,Staff writer

The lawyer for a defendant linked to last year's killing of state trooper Ted Wolf revealed the existence of witness statements last weekthat allegedly implicate a co-defendant.

Prosecutors have repeatedly pointed to Eric Tirado as the trigger man in the killing of Cpl. Theodore D. Wolf, who was shot March 29, 1990, during a traffic stop in Jessup. However, witness statements presented in court reportedly suggest that co-defendant Francisco Rodriguez may have fired the gun.

Tirado's defense team presented the statements during two days ofmotions hearings last week in preparation for the June 3 trial.

The hearings saw Tirado's attorney, Mark A. Van Bavel, sharply criticize the state's handling of the investigation. Prosecutors, he said, have neglected to consider evidence that may show Rodriguez as the guilty man.

Van Bavel also accused investigators of withholding evidence and denying "fundamental issues of fairness" that are crucial to the trial.

Van Bavel presented a written copy of a statement allegedly made by a third man, Andino Rodriguez, 27, a Honduran immigrant charged as an accessory in Wolf's death.

In the statement, reportedly made in a police briefing, Andino Rodriguez claimed Francisco Rodriguez said he wanted "to kill a policeman" just prior to the Wolf shooting.

Francisco Rodriguez allegedly made the comment one hour before Wolf was shot, Van Bavel said. Another witness statement allegesthat Rodriguez had been carrying a gun on the day of the shooting, Van Bavel said.

"Witnesses reported that he was behaving wildly andmaking comments about shooting a police officer," Van Bavel said.

Assistant State's Attorney Michael D. Rexroad, the chief prosecutor in the case, denied withholding evidence and said he first learned ofAndino Rodriguez's statement in court Wednesday.

In anticipation of intense media coverage of Tirado's trial, Van Bavel said he will request this week that a gag order be issued to all parties involved in the case.

Van Bavel said the state's attempt to subpoena 258 witnesses in the case is an attempt to present an "amorphous mass of information" that will overwhelm a jury. Press statements will add to confusion, and a gag order is necessary, he said.

Rexroad said he will be working out the details for the gag order request with Van Bavel sometime this week.

The motions hearing in county Circuit Court mark the beginning of courtroom testimony in the case. Tirado and Francisco Rodriguez both have been charged with first-degree murder.

Tirado, whom prosecutors believe was the trigger man in the shooting,faces the death penalty if convicted.

"We are faltering around blind at this point, having doors slammed in our faces when trying to get information that is public record," Van Bavel said. He labeled prosecutors as being "cavalier" despite the implications of a trial "in which Mr. Tirado faces a penalty of death."

Tirado, 27, and Rodriguez, 20, both of the Bronx, N.Y., also are charged with robbery and weapons offenses. Rodriguez is being held in Virginia, where he is serving a prison sentence on federal drug charges. Tirado is being held at the Super-Max correctional facility at the Maryland Penitentiary in Baltimore.

Prosecutors have not revealed what they believe to bethe motive behind the Wolf slaying. They also have not commented on why they believe the two men were in Maryland and Virginia in the days just before the crime.

Wolf was shot in his police cruiser, apparently while writing a traffic warning. The shooting occurred at about 4 a.m. on Interstate 95.

Several of Tirado's family members havecome to Howard County for the trial, which may last as long as a month. On Wednesday, Tirado's father, Michael Tirado, yelled, "I love you, Eric, I love you," as his son was being escorted out of the courtroom after the hearing.

Circuit Court Judge Raymond J. Kane Jr. will review the request for the gag order. The next pretrial hearing will be May 8.

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