As the murder trial of Eric Joseph Tirado moved into its second day today, the defense and prosecution were in agreement that Tirado and his companion were present when Maryland State Police Cpl. Theodore Wolf was fatally shot last year.
They did not agree, however, on who pulled the trigger ending Wolf's life.
Defense attorney Mark A. Van Bavel conceded in his opening statement in Howard County Circuit Court yesterday that Tirado, 27, of the Bronx, N.Y., had been on Interstate 95 in Jessup at 4 a.m. March 29, 1990, when the shooting occurred.
But Van Bavel hinted that Francisco Rodriguez, 21,also of the Bronx, who was traveling with Tirado, actually killed Wolf.
"The issue is plain and simple. [Tirado] was there. We are not denying that for a second," he told a jury and Judge Raymond J. Kane Jr. "The issue is whether or not he participated in the crime."
He said witnesses can testify that Rodriguez was in "an enraged, aggravated state" hours before Wolf was slain. He said Rodriguez, Tirado and another man had stolen a car in Alexandria, Va., so they could go to New York City. He said Rodriguez "was threatening that if anyone got in his way, he would kill him."
Both Tirado and Rodriguez are charged with first-degree murder, robbery and weapons offenses in Wolf's slaying. Prosecutors say Tirado was the triggerman and, therefore, is eligible for the death penalty they are seeking against him.
Rodriguez is serving a 14-year term in federal prison in Virginia as a result of conviction in April on an unrelated drug-distribution charge. His murder trial in Maryland will come later.
Assistant State's Attorney Michael Rexroad said in his opening statement that testimony of expert witnesses will pinpoint Tirado as the murderer.
He said experts on fingerprints, DNA matching and blood-splattering analysis will show that Tirado's fingerprints were smeared in Wolf's blood on a stolen car that was dumped in Lansdowne.
Rexroad added that truck drivers who drove past the scene would identify Tirado as Wolf's killer.
Rexroad said Tirado was driving the stolen 1988 Chevrolet Nova when Wolf stopped the vehicle for speeding on I-95 at the Md. 175 overpass. He said the officer directed him to the passenger seat of his police cruiser.
The prosecutor said Tirado was seated beside Wolf as the officer sat with a pen in his right hand, a traffic violation book in his lap and his legs crossed. Tirado then pulled out a .357-caliber handgun and shot Wolf, Rexroad said.
Rexroad said expert witnesses will prove that Wolf was still breathing after the first shot and that Tirado fired again as he was leaving the police car, that bullet striking Wolf in the cheek.
"He owned up to others that he was in the passenger seat, took a gun and shot Trooper Wolf not once, but twice, and left Trooper Wolf for dead, for the mere sake of a speeding ticket," Rexroad said.
Tirado sat impassively through yesterday's proceedings. He wore a multicolored sweater and brown pants. He had a mustache and at times wore eyeglasses.
Later in yesterday's proceedings, police witnesses described the crime scene. An off-duty District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department employee testified that he stopped and saw an officer had been slain and reported the incident to local police.
County police officers said they arrived to find Wolf's vehicle parked on the left shoulder of northbound I-95 with the engine running and the overhead light, spotlight, headlights and interior lights all glaring.
Bryan Culbertson, a county police officer who answered the call, said the driver's door to Wolf's car was open and the officer's head was slumped. He said a "substantial" puddle of blood was on the ground by the driver's side. He said he checked Wolf's pulse and listened for breathing, but there was no sign of life.
Officer Kelly Smith testified that, as Culbertson walked toward him, Culbertson "shook his head and said, 'he's gone.' "