Defendant's appearance is in dispute in Howard court State trooper's accused killer may keep shaving, judge rules.

May 10, 1991|By Jay Merwin | Jay Merwin,Evening Sun Staff

The clean-shaven man who stands accused of murderin State Police Cpl. Theodore D. Wolf will retain his freedom to shave.

Prosecutors who are seeking the death penalty for Eric Tirado, 27, had asked the Howard County Circuit Court to compel Tirado to restore his face to the dark, unshaven appearance it had around the time of Wolf's murder on March 29, 1990. They charged that Tirado was trying to alter his appearance to frustrate trial witnesses trying to identify him.

After seeing pictures of Tirado in varying stages of facial growth and after hearing testimony from pre-trial witnesses who said they could recognize Tirado with or without his beard, Judge Raymond J. Kane Jr., decided against an anti-shaving order yesterday.

"Maybe some guys have the ability to grow hair better than others, or so I've been told," said the smooth-chinned, balding judge. "I've never experienced that."

The beard of Eric Tirado, who in recent weeks has shaved all but his full mustache, was the subject of one of several pre-trial disputes about how much police investigative evidence the defense may obtain before trial. In most of these arguments, the prosecutors have accused the defense of going on a "fishing expedition" for information that would reveal the prosecution's trial strategy.

Tirado is accused with another man, Francisco Rodriguez, of murdering Wolf after Wolf stopped their car on I-95 in Jessup. Jury selection for Tirado's trial is scheduled to begin June 3.

Before the judge ruled on Tirado's beard, opposing lawyers spent hours examining witnesses who had seen Tirado before he shaved.

To define the beard, defense attorney Mark Van Bavel asked Adriana Artiles, who had seen Tirado the day before the murder: "Are you familiar with the television show 'Miami Vice?' "

Apparently requiring no further prompting about Don Johnson, the stubbly star of the show, Artiles replied that Tirado's beard was "not the 5 o'clock shadow," but was fuller.

Tirado's sister Yvette Tirado later testified that her brother wore his beard on and off, perhaps 40 percent of the time, but didn't let it grow too bushy.

So Eric Tirado had no trouble growing his beard, and it grew quickly, one of the prosecuting attorneys asked.

"I really don't know," Yvette Tirado said. "I don't look how his hair grows everyday."

Van Bavel argued that if Tirado were required to look exactly as he did at the time of Wolf's murder, the prosecution could use the trial as "a moving line-up," in which witnesses could be coaxed to rely on Tirado's beard to link him with any bearded suspect for whom they gave descriptions to police.

Van Bavel urged prosecutors to name the witnesses during the pre-trial stage that they would bring at trial to identify Tirado in connection with the murder. But Assistant States Attorney Michael Rexroad responded that the defense was trying to discover the prosecution's theory of the case.

Judge Kane heard similar arguments arising over defense access to investigative evidence. Making several rulings on motions, Kane agreed to ask a Cecil County Court for information about a deal struck with a prison inmate who has testified in other criminal cases and is listed as a prosecution witness in the Wolf murder case. Van Bavel said he wanted to know how this prison "snitch" had been rewarded in reduced sentences for his own convictions.

Prosecutors said, however, that they had made no deals with the prisoner to obtain testimony in this case.

Kane ruled against the defense, however, in its attempt to learn before trial how the prosecution would argue for the death penalty if Tirado were found guilty of the murder. Since the time between any conviction and sentencing would be short, Van Bavel said, he wanted to prepare beforehand to counter state arguments recommending the death penalty.

But, again, prosecutors said that such disclosures would uncover their evidence and strategy against Tirado.

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