Moments after he was stopped for speeding last March, Eric Joseph Tirado pulled out a gun, pumped two bullets into the face of Cpl. Theodore D. Wolf and left the state trooper to die in his cruiser, a Howard County prosecutor told jurors yesterday.
Corporal Wolf had asked Tirado to sit next to him in his cruiser as he wrote the 27-year-old Bronx, N.Y., man a ticket for going 72 mph in a 55 mph zone on Interstate 95 in Jessup in the early hours of March 29, prosecutor Michael Rexroad said in opening statements.
"The defendant then pulled out a .357-caliber revolver and placed it almost flush against the lips of Trooper Wolf and pulled back the hammer and exploded a bullet into the mouth of the trooper," Mr. Rexroad said.
"And with Trooper Wolf still alive and bleeding from the mouth," he added, "Eric Joseph Tirado got out of the vehicle and pointed the gun again and placed another bullet in the side of the cheek of Trooper Wolf."
But Mark Van Bavel, the defense attorney, told the jury of six men and six women in his opening statement that prosecutors have only circumstantial evidence to suggest that Tirado shot Corporal Wolf, 40, a 16-year veteran of the state police.
Mr. Van Bavel acknowledged that Tirado was one of two men in a light blue Chevrolet Nova Corporal Wolf had pulled over but said "the issue is whether he participated in the crime."
Mr. Van Bavel strongly suggested to the jury that Tirado's co-defendant, Francisco Rodriguez, 21, also of the Bronx, was the one who fired the fatal shots. Rodriquez is to be tried separately. Mr. Van Bavel said a friend of the two suspects would testify that a few hours before Corporal Wolf was gunned down, "Francisco Rodriquez was in a state of total agitation and said that if anyone would get in his way, he would kill him. He was armed and acting totally irrational."
The "cold, hard and fast evidence" will show that "Eric Tirado is not the trigger-puller," Mr. Van Bavel said. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Tirado.
Yesterday's opening statements before Circuit Judge Raymond J. Kane Jr. marked the start of a trial that is expected to last at least six weeks, making it one of the longest in recent county history.
Tirado, a man of medium size with a dark mustache and tuft of hair below his lower lip, showed no emotion yesterday as he listened to Mr. Rexroad outline the state's version of what happened the morning of the murder.
Corporal Wolf's widow, Virginia, his two sons and his parents looked on gravely from their seat in the second row behind the prosecutor's table.
After the fatal shots were fired, Mr. Rexroad said, Tirado picked up his driver's license and Corporal Wolf's ticket book and he and Rodriquez headed north in the Nova, which had been stolen several hours earlier in Alexandria, Va.
They took Route 695 to Hollins Ferry Road, where they ditched the car behind a convenience store and tried to destroy the trooper's citation and traffic warning books by setting fire to them.
From there, they fled to Baltimore to pick up money orders totaling $550 that had been wired to them from friends in New York so they could get back home. Tirado was later arrested in New York, where he was imprisoned on a handgun violation.
Mr. Rexroad said witnesses will testify that Tirado told them "he was in the front seat and was a passenger in Trooper Wolf's vehicle and took a gun and shot the trooper not once but twice and left Trooper Wolf for dead for the mere sake of a speeding ticket."
The state also will call truck drivers who drove past the Nova about 3:30 a.m. and saw it parked in front of Corporal Wolf's car, and experts who will say the blood found in the abandoned getaway car was Corporal Wolf's.
He also said the state found a bloody fingerprint near the passenger's side armrest in the getaway car.
"It was the trooper's blood and it was Eric Joseph Tirado's fingerprint," Mr. Rexroad said, pointing at the defendant.
The state's first witness, Robert Loproto of the District of Columbia Police Department, said he was heading home from New York on I-95 the morning of the murder when he saw Corporal Wolf's cruiser on the shoulder under the Route 175 overpass with its headlights and interior lights on and the engine running.
Mr. Loproto, who was off-duty at the time, said he suspected trouble and backed up to inspect the cruiser. He saw Corporal Wolf with "blood all over his uniform and face and his pen in hand."