Defense tells jury Tirado 'still can love'

July 26, 1991|By Michael J. Clark | Michael J. Clark,Howard County Bureau of The Sun

Eric Tirado, convicted of the March 1990 murder of a state trooper, "is not a monster who came out of the swamp" but "a human being with people who love him," his lawyer argued yesterday.

Tirado, who faces the death penalty for the slaying of Cpl. Theodore D. Wolf, "was a regular kid who graduated from high school and had loving parents and a decent home," attorney Mark Van Bavel told a Howard County Circuit Court jury that will decide his client's fate.

What the jury saw during the trial was "a horrible incident of his life -- a fleeting second and snapshot that no one can ever make go away," Mr. Van Bavel said, painting Tirado as a person who had been living a normal life that suddenly turned sour.

L He urged the jury "not to kill him [but] jail him for life."

Tirado's life "still does have a positive force," Mr. Van Bavel said. "It will allow him to let his son know what happens when you do wrong. He still can love and receive love back."

The same jury that convicted Tirado of shooting Corporal Wolf twice in the face could decide on a death sentence, life without parole or life with a possibility of parole.

As Mr. Van Bavel pleaded for his client's life, prosecutor Michael D. Rexroad pressed for the death penalty.

"The verdict of death is the only appropriate sentence in this case," he said.

Mr. Rexroad introduced the victim impact statements of the trooper's widow, Virginia Wolf, and his parents, Leroy and Jane Wolf. It was the first time such a statement has been used in a death penalty case in Maryland since a 1987 U.S. Supreme Court decision outlawed them.

Last month, the high court reversed that decision.

In her statements, described by one lawyer as "heart-rending," Mrs. Wolf said she and her husband had such a close relationship that a part of her died as well, when he was fatally shot as he sat in his cruiser on Interstate 95 near Jessup about 3:30 a.m. March 29, 1990.

As the two lawyers argued over whether he should live or die in the gas chamber, Tirado, 27, of the Bronx, N.Y., kept his head down at the defense table.

Anticipating the emotional impact of the victim statements, Mr. Van Bavel warned the jury of seven men and five women "they will hit you."

"Your eyes will get wet. Your stomach will turn, and you will be affected," he conceded. But "what we have here [the defendant] is a human being," Mr. Van Bavel added.

In fact, he started out "to be a transit cop and put in a couple months before leaving, and that seems to be when the wheels fell off the cart," he said.

Prosecutors rested their case yesterday without calling any witnesses.

Instead, they introduced the victim impact statements, a background report on Tirado, which shows he served a prison term in New York for assault and possessing a weapon, and the transcript of the monthlong trial that ended last week.

Tirado was convicted of first-degree murder, armed robbery and a handgun violation.

The jury will have to decide whether Tirado or his alleged accomplice, Francisco Rodriquez, fired the shots that killed Corporal Wolf, then decide whether the aggravating circumstances outweigh the mitigating circumstances in deciding the sentence.

The defense said it plans to have Tirado's friends and family members testify today so the jury can learn of him "as a human being."

Mr. Rexroad said he expects lawyers for both sides to make final arguments Monday and send the case to the jury.

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