The haunting victim impact statements of the widow and parents of murdered state trooper Theodore D. Wolf will go before a Howard County jury today as it considers whether to sentence Eric Joseph Tirado to death for the trooper's murder.
It will be the first time evidence detailing the effect of a murder on the victim's family has reached a capital jury in Maryland since 1987, when a U.S. Supreme Court ruling outlawed such testimony in sentencing hearings. The high court reversed itself in that decision last month.
The same jury that convicted Tirado last week will see a three-page typed statement in which Virginia Wolf says she and her three sons were devastated by her husband's death and haunted by thoughts of his last moments, when he was shot in the face at point blank range inside his cruiser.
"I speculate on the pain he must have felt as he sat there dying and how long a period of time elapsed before it was finally over," she wrote in a portion entered into the record during a hearing yesterday. "I speculate on what his last thoughts might have been, and I know that I will never know the answers to these questions."
The jury also will receive a one-page statement from Jane and Leroy Wolf, the trooper's parents.
Corporal Wolf was murdered March 29, 1990, during a pre-dawn traffic stop on Interstate 95 near Jessup.
Defense attorney James Wyda challenged several paragraphs of Mrs. Wolf's statement yesterday, arguing they would have a potentially "emotional" impact on jurors considering a death penalty.
Circuit Judge Raymond J. Kane Jr., who is to preside over the hearing, said that he struck "limited" portions of the statement during a review in his chambers but that he would admit nearly all of it.
Mrs. Wolf's statement is "a very articulate document," he ruled. The statements cited by the defense are "relatively mild" and would not "mislead or give undue emphasis" to a jury considering the death penalty.
Richard B. Rosenblatt, an assistant attorney general who handles death penalty cases, said the impact statements "will permit the state to humanize the deceased and allows the jury to determine the effect of the harm caused by the criminal act on the family of the deceased."
It took the jury little more than five hours last Thursday to convict Tirado, a 27-year-old native of the Bronx, N.Y., of first-degree murder in the slaying of the state trooper.
Tirado will decide before the hearing today whether he will have Judge Kane, presiding over his first capital case, or the jury decide the sentencing issue.
Defense lawyers suggested yesterday that he would choose the jury because all 12 jurors would have to agree before a death penalty was imposed.
The lawyers are expected to take up to three days to present evidence, and the decision could be made Monday. If the jury decides against the death penalty, then it would consider a life term without parole or a straight life term for the defendant.
The last person executed under the death penalty in Maryland was Nathaniel Lipscomb in June 1961 after being convicted in 1959 of raping and murdering three women in Baltimore.
Currently, there are 11 inmates on death row in Maryland, and the average length of appeals in state and federal courts for death row inmates takes eight years or longer, Mr. Rosenblatt said.
Before the jury hears the evidence, Judge Kane intends to decide whether Tirado's two convictions last year on possession of a weapon and assault in the second degree constitutes a crime of violence under Maryland law. That is significant because the commission of a previous crime of violence is one of the issues the jury must consider.