Prosecutors were picking up the pace as testimony in the murder trial of Eric Joseph Tirado entered its seventh day today.
A truck driver yesterday identified Tirado, 27, of the Bronx, N.Y., as the driver of a stolen car that was stopped by Maryland State Police Cpl. Theodore D. Wolf shortly before the trooper was found slain in his vehicle last year.
John Anderson, 32, of Baltimore, told a Howard County Circuit Court jury yesterday that he was driving from Washington on dTC Interstate 95 and was speeding parallel to Tirado's car at 72 mph for three-quarters of a mile early on March 29, 1990, when a State Police car approached.
Anderson said one lane separated his 18-wheeler from Tirado's Chevrolet Nova, which he testified was traveling in the far left lane of the four-lane highway between 3:30 and 4 a.m. that day. He said he saw Tirado's face when the officer shined his spotlight into the car.
"The spotlight reflected off the rear view mirror and lit his face up," he testified, adding that he could not identify the passenger in the car because he could only see the back of the man's head.
Anderson said he continued to drive at 72 mph despite the state trooper's presence. He said it would have been too late to slow down to avoid getting a ticket.
Defense lawyer Mark A. Van Bavel tried to cast doubt in the minds of jurors when he submitted a police artist's rendering of the Nova's driver that was drawn from a description Anderson provided. The features in the drawing did not match Tirado's, Anderson acknowledged.
Van Bavel suggested that Anderson's ability to identify Tirado in the courtroom yesterday was aided by his viewing the defendant's photographs in news reports.
Tirado is charged with murder, robbery and weapons offenses in Wolf's death.
Francisco Rodriguez, 21, of the Bronx, also faces murder, robbery and weapons offenses and will be tried later. He is serving a sentence in federal prison in Virginia for a recent conviction on cocaine-conspiracy offenses.
Prosecutors contend that Tirado was the triggerman in the slaying and are seeking the death penalty for him. Both the prosecution and defense agree that the two men were present when Wolf was murdered, but Tirado's lawyers are suggesting that Rodriguez shot the officer.
Identification of the driver is crucial because the operator is believed to have shot Wolf as the officer was writing him a ticket. Police allege Tirado was driving the Nova when Wolf pulled over the car and ordered him to the passenger seat of the police cruiser.
Wolf was found with two gunshot wounds to the head at 4 a.m. that day. He had a traffic citation book on his lap and a pen in his right hand.
In yesterday's testimony, the trucker said he was returning to Baltimore from a fuel-delivery run to Georgetown University when he first saw a Chevrolet Nova occupied by two men on I-95, just north of Md. 32 in Howard County. He said he was in the second lane from the right and that the Nova was in the left lane when both vehicles sped along the highway.
Anderson said he glanced into the Chevrolet a number of times because he usually looks for "something amusing" on the highway in the early morning hours. After the officer flashed his lights, he said, the men appeared to search under their seats for something.
He said the car eventually pulled over on the left shoulder, and that he proceeded north with his truck.
Tirado and Rodriguez left a Falls Church apartment at 3 a.m. on March 29, according to Angelica Gonzalez, 18, who said Rodriguez was her roommate's boyfriend. She said they had stayed at the apartment for more than five hours and had eaten dinner there. She said they left after saying they had to be in New York City that morning.
Gonzalez testified that Tirado was carrying a black bag but that she was unaware of its contents.
Under cross-examination, she said Tirado and Rodriguez looked somewhat alike and had identical hair styles.