ELLICOTT CITY -- Eric Joseph Tirado was found guilty last night of first-degree murder in the shooting death of Maryland State Police Cpl. Theodore D. Wolf.
A Howard County Circuit Court jury took a little more than five hours to reach its decision, which could send Tirado to death row.
Tirado, a 27-year-old resident of the Bronx in New York, stood stone-faced as the jury forewoman read the guilty verdict at 7:55 p.m.
The trooper's widow, Virginia Wolf, who has attended every day of the five-week trial, brushed away tears as Tirado was declared guilty of first-degree murder, robbery with a deadly weapon and use of a handgun during a felony.
"I thought he'd be found guilty," Mrs. Wolf said outside of the courthouse later. The guilty verdict, she said, "sort of puts everything in perspective."
Sgt. Tom Coppinger, for nearly nine years a close friend of Corporal Wolf's, said: "Mr. Tirado's expression [when the verdict was read] showed you what kind of person he is. . . . He had no expression, he was emotionless, he could care less. . . . It was a cowardly act, [and] he deserves the death penalty."
The jury will begin deliberating Thursday about whether Tirado should receive the death penalty.
As the jurors were individually polled by the court clerk, Tirado stared straight ahead, breaking his stare only to glance at the jurors as each announced that the defendant had been found guilty.
Tirado was charged as the trigger man in the death of Corporal Wolf, who was shot twice in the face as he sat in his cruiser on Interstate 95 near Jessup at about 4 a.m. March 29, 1990.
Yesterday morning, the seven-man, five-woman Circuit Court jury received instructions from Judge Raymond J. Kane Jr. and then heard closing arguments from prosecutors Michael Rexroad and Timothy Wolf and from Tirado's attorney, Mark Van Bavel.
In his closing argument, Mr. Rexroad said that the state had proved it was Tirado who shot Corporal Wolf and that he should be found guilty of premeditated first-degree murder. "This is classic premeditation," Mr. Rexroad said. "This is the coldest of cold blood."
After the shooting, prosecutors said, Tirado picked up his driver's license and the trooper's citation and warning books and headed north with Francisco Rodriguez, 21, in a stolen Chevrolet Nova.
They ditched the car behind a delicatessen in Lansdowne and tried to burn the ticket and warning books, then went to Baltimore to pick up $550 in money orders that friends had wired them so they could return to New York, the prosecution said.
Tirado was later jailed in New York on a handgun violation. Rodriguez, who is to be tried later for his role in the Wolf killing, also was jailed on a handgun charge and was recently convicted in a drug conspiracy case in federal court. He is now in a Virginia prison.
During the trial, which lasted almost five weeks, James R. Simms, a state fingerprint expert, testified that a bloody print found in the stolen Nova belonged to Tirado. The blood came from Corporal Wolf, another state expert testified later as prosecutors worked to establish that Tirado fired the fatal shots.
Mr. Simms also testified that he found more of Tirado's fingerprints on a shopping bag in the rear of the car and on the driver's side door.
John S. Anderson, a truck driver who drove past the scene that night, testified that he saw Tirado at the wheel of the Nova, his face illuminated by a spotlight Corporal Wolf had trained on the car after he stopped it for speeding.
The defense attorney, Mr. Van Bavel, suggested that Mr. Anderson may have been influenced by seeing Tirado on television news shows, but Mr. Anderson would not budge.
In his closing argument, Mr. Van Bavel said he found it hard to believe that Mr. Anderson would be able to positively identify Tirado as he sped past on I-95.
"Ladies and gentlemen, bluntly, I find it rather incredible," he said.
Perhaps the most damaging prosecution witness was Edgar Duvarie, a former co-worker and friend of Tirado's. He testified that Tirado told him he shot the trooper after he stopped them for speeding because Tirado and Rodriguez were soon to begin serving sentences on weapons convictions and didn't want to risk any more jail time. Mr. Rexroad argued yesterday that Tirado, who as the driver was going to receive the ticket, was the one who had a reason to kill Corporal Wolf.
"Who had the motive?" Mr. Rexroad asked. "The driver. And the driver was Eric Tirado."
But Mr. Van Bavel countered that this motive made no sense. "Why would someone become incensed about getting a speeding ticket?"
Mr. Van Bavel conceded that his client stole the Nova and was in it the night Corporal Wolf was killed, but he tried to get the jury to focus on Rodriguez. Mr. Van Bavel suggested that state police investigators and the prosecution decided very early that it was the driver of the stolen Nova who shot Corporal Wolf, and that Tirado had been the driver.
"I think the theory developed first and the evidence followed to support the theory," he said.
The key defense witness was Rosalinda Santos, the girlfriend of a mutual friend of Tirado and Rodriguez, who testified that Rodriguez was in a highly agitated state the night of the shooting and was screaming, "I'm so mad right now that I could kill anyone who gets in my way!"
Under cross-examination by Mr. Rexroad, however, Miss Santos admitted that Rodriguez may not have been serious when he made the statement. And she insisted, under repeated questioning by Mr. Van Bavel, that she could not remember Rodriguez saying that he hated police that night, even though she told that to police investigators.