A Howard County prosecutor today told a Circuit Court jury that Eric Joseph Tirado shot State Police Cpl. Theodore D. Wolf twice -- once through the mouth -- while Tirado was stopped for a speeding violation on Interstate 95 last year.
Michael Rexroad, an assistant state's attorney, began the task of convincing the jury that Tirado, 27, of the Bronx, N.Y., was the triggerman in the death of Wolf, 40, who was found slain in his police cruiser on March 29, 1990.
Moments later, defense attorney Mark A. Van Bavel acknowledged that Tirado was at the scene when Wolf was slain, but suggested that Francisco Rodriguez, 21, also of the Bronx and charged with murder in Wolf's death, actually shot Wolf. Rodriguez was in the car with Tirado, according to court records.
In his 20-minute opening statement during the first day of Tirado's murder trial, Rexroad outlined the prosecution's theory of events that led to Wolf's death.
He said Tirado was driving northbound from Virginia on I-95 in a Chevrolet Nova early March 29, 1990 when the car passed Wolf's police cruiser near Md. 175 in Jessup. He said the Nova was clocked at 72.3 mph.
When Wolf signaled for the car to pull over, said Rexroad, it proceeded slowly on I-95 for a long time before finally stopping under the Md. 175 overpass.
He said the trooper asked for Tirado's driver's license and registration and directed him to the passenger seat of his police cruiser.
"Trooper Wolf was in the process of writing Eric Joseph Tirado -- that man right there -- a ticket," said Rexroad, his voice rising as he pointed to Tirado.
"In Trooper Wolf's lap was a ticket book and in his right hand a pen. The defendant pulled out a .357-caliber revolver and placed it to the mouth -- almost flush against the lips -- of Trooper Wolf at point-blank range and pulled back the hammer."
Rexroad said the bullet went through Wolf's head and landed on the armrest of his vehicle. Rexroad said testimony on blood-splattering studies will show that the officer was still alive after the first shot, however, and that, as Tirado left the vehicle, he shot Wolf a second time, on the cheek.
He said Tirado then took Wolf's ticket book and warning books and his driver's license and "left Trooper Wolf to die in his A-32, his vehicle."
Rexroad said the men fled to Baltimore County and abandoned the car. They later made their way to Baltimore's Inner Harbor, he said.
The prosecutor said DNA tests, blood analyses and fingerprint examinations will prove that Tirado's blood-stained fingerprints were found on the Nova.
Tirado, wearing a multi-colored sweater and brown pants, sat impassively during Rexroad's statements. His father, brother and sister watched from the third row of the courtroom gallery. Wolf's widow, Virginia, and other relatives sat in the second row.
Van Bavel, who addressed each of the 12 jurors and four alternates by name without looking at notes, termed the murder "a tragic event." But he hinted that Rodriguez was the triggerman. He said witnesses can testify that Rodriguez was "enraged" the night before the 4 a.m. shooting.
He said one witness "will testify that Francisco Rodriguez was in a state of irritation and aggravation, and was threatening that if anyone got in his way, he would kill him."
Van Bavel reminded the jury that only the person who causes the death of someone can be eligible for the death penalty, which is being sought for Tirado.