Trooper slaying suspect allowed to stay beardless

May 10, 1991|By Michael J. Clark | Michael J. Clark,Howard County Bureau of The Sun

The prosecution's case against one of two men charged in the slaying last March of state police Cpl. Theodore D. Wolf suffered a setback yesterday when a judge refused to order Eric Tirado to grow back the beard he wore when he was arrested.

Prosecutor Michael D. Rexroad had filed a motion asking that Tirado, 26, of the Bronx, N.Y., be required to grow back his beard so that witnesses would not have trouble identifying him. He now wears only a mustache.

"It is contrary to the interests of justice for a defendant to be able to change his appearance to frustrate justice," said Mr. Rexroad, noting that Tirado shaved before a March 26 hearing in which he faced the possibility of being confronted by witnesses.

But Mark Van Bavel, a defense attorney, argued that "the state may be using the court for its own investigative purposes." He suggested that during the trial, the state might try to "run enough people through" until someone eventually identified Tirado as having been at the scene of the slaying.

"They are stretching justice to its outer limits," he told Howard County Circuit Judge Raymond J. Kane. "Don't turn this case into a circus."

Judge Kane sided with the defense, noting that two witnesses who testified yesterday, Adriana Artiles and Angelica Gonzales, said they had seen Tirado with a beard the day before the trooper's murder but could just as easily identify him without one.

The judge said he had not seen any evidence that Tirado's shaving of his beard was an effort to frustrate his identification by a witness.

Mr. Van Bavel said he considered the judge's ruling "a major victory," although Mr. Rexroad insisted it was "not crucial to the case."

Yesterday's hearing also gave rise to a cat-and-mouse game between lawyers as the defense tried without success to determine whether the state has any eyewitnesses who can place Tirado on Interstate 95 in Jessup on March 29, 1990, the day of the murder.

"They could not bring forward anyone who saw Eric Tirado at the crime scene," Mr. Van Bavel said after the hearing.

But Mr. Rexroad declined to reveal whether there were eyewitnesses to the slaying, which took place during a traffic stop, saying only that there was nothing in the public record that would indicate any such eyewitnesses.

When police charged Tirado and Francisco Rodriguez, 20, also of the Bronx, investigators said they had fingerprints linking them to a stolen Chevrolet Nova the killers are believed to have ditched in Lansdowne shortly after the slaying.

The defense also won the right to obtain composite sketches of possible suspects that police had made after Corporal Wolf's slaying as well as photo lineups that police had showed witnesses. The judge also agreed to inspect a statement state police took from Roberto Rodriguez for evidence that might help the defense.

Roberto Rodriguez -- no relation to Francisco -- was charged in Alexandria, Va., with stealing the Chevrolet Nova used by Corporal Wolf's killers. He reportedly implicated Francisco Rodriguez, who is to be tried separately.

According to Mr. Van Bavel, Roberto Rodriguez told state police that an angry Francisco Rodriguez had been brandishing a pistol an hour before the trooper's murder while saying that he wanted to "kill a policeman."

Although the defense won on some motions yesterday, in the vast majority of his rulings Judge Kane sided with the hTC prosecution, as the defense tried to get more leeway during discovery, the process of finding out as much as possible about the state's case.

"We were very happy," Mr. Rexroad said. "Nearly every defense motion was denied, and the case is right where it should be."

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Tirado. The trial is to begin June 3.

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