Key Witness in Tirado trial a mystery Charges reduced for man who allegedly helped Tirado escape.

June 19, 1991|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Evening Sun Staff

Secrecy surrounds a key figure in the murder trial of Eric Joseph Tirado, the Bronx, N.Y., man accused of firing the shots that killed State Police Cpl. Theodore D. Wolf last year.

Roberto Andino Rodriguez, 28, a Honduran national, is expected to be an important witness in Tirado's Howard County Circuit Court trial, but he's nowhere to be seen.

The trial enters its third day today with prosecutors going over preliminary physical evidence from the crime scene.

Prosecutors are not saying much about Roberto Rodriguez, who originally was charged with helping Tirado, 27, and a companion escape to New York City after Wolf was slain in his police cruiser March 29, 1990.

Roberto Rodriguez is expected to cooperate with the prosecution. His original charge of being accessory after the fact for helping the two murder defendants flee to New York was reduced to car theft and placed on inactive status in Baltimore Circuit Court last June 29.

He is not in custody and the car theft charge will be dropped altogether next week if he continues to cooperate with the investigation, according to city prosecutors.

Howard County prosecutor Timothy G. Wolf, no relation to the slain trooper, declined to say where Rodriguez is, when he will testify or whether he is being protected by authorities during a trial marked by extra security from county sheriff's deputies and State Police.

Prosecutors have said Roberto Rodriguez was in another car traveling to New York at the same time Tirado and the second man charged in Wolf's murder, Francisco Rodriguez, 21, also of the Bronx, were headed there.

The two Rodriguezes are not related. Francisco Rodriguez is to be tried in the Wolf case separately.

Court records show that Roberto Rodriguez was with Tirado and Francisco Rodriguez both before and after the 4 a.m. shooting.

Prosecutors say Roberto helped Tirado and Francisco Rodriguez steal a car in Alexandria, Va., hours before the shooting, and court records say he was with them at Baltimore's Inner Harbor hours afterward.

Prosecutors are certain to count on him to pinpoint Tirado as the triggerman in the shooting. They are seeking the death penalty against Tirado. Under Maryland law, only the person who caused the victim's death is eligible for the gas chamber.

The prosecution contends that Tirado was driving a stolen 1988 Chevrolet Nova on Interstate 95 when Theodore Wolf pulled him over in Jessup for driving 72 mph. They say the officer ordered Tirado out of the car and into the passenger seat of his police cruiser. While Wolf was preparing to write him a ticket, Tirado shot the trooper in the mouth and cheek, prosecutors said.

Defense attorneys, however, are hinting that Francisco Rodriguez was the triggerman.

The two men were riding in the same car, the defense and prosecution agree, but defense lawyer Mark A. Van Bavel said in his opening statement Monday that Francisco Rodriguez was in "an irritated state" hours before the shooting, and was threatening to kill anyone who got in his way.

Meanwhile, the trial is centering on evidence taken from the crime scene. Robert White, a State Police crime lab investigator, was to begin his second day on the witness stand today.

Yesterday, he explained how fingerprints and other evidence were gathered near the slain trooper's car. He also showed grisly photographs of Wolf, whose head was slumped forward toward the steering wheel with a bullet hole below the right ear. The photos also showed a large bloodstain on the front of his shirt and splattering on the seats.

One State Police officer providing security in the courtroom sighed when he looked at the picture and bowed his head.

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