Howard County's top prosecutor says he made the right decision when he rejected a defense plea offer that Eric Joseph Tirado accept a sentence of life in prison without parole in exchange for the prosecution's agreement to end its quest for a death penalty.
"If there was ever a case that cried out for the death penalty, that's it. This is the one," said William R. Hymes, state's attorney for the county.
Hymes rejected a pre-trial request by Tirado's attorney, Mark A. Van Bavel, to enter a guilty plea for his client in the shooting death of Maryland State Trooper Theodore D. Wolf in March 1990.
The state's attorney's office opted to try the case and seek the death penalty for Tirado after consulting with Wolf's widow, Virginia, but a county jury sentenced the 27-year-old former Bronx, N.Y., man to life without parole anyway.
State Public Defender Stephen E. Harris testified before a joint state House-Senate subcommittee studying spending for public safety last week that his office spent "a couple hundred thousand dollars" of state money to defend Tirado.
Hymes disputed that figure.
"I would be interested in seeing the list of expenses he adds up to several hundred thousand dollars," he said, insisting that his office spent only $20,000 to $30,000 for witnesses.
The head of the public defender's capital crimes division says the office spent $12,500 for Tirado's lawyer and that it is being billed for investigations, expert witnesses and travel expenses.
Other state expenses for the trial resulted from extra courtroom security provided by Maryland State Police. Several plainclothes officers were stationed in the courtroom of Judge Raymond J. Kane Jr. throughout the six weeks it took for the trial and sentencing.
Howard County also incurred expenses for extra security as sheriff's deputies worked overtime. The county also paid for courtroom costs and jury fees.
Hymes said he does not figure the time his assistant state's attorneys spent to investigate and prosecute the case into his expenses, calling them fixed costs. He said none of his assistants was paid overtime.
He said he was not pressured by public opinion against Tirado to reject the plea agreement.
"I don't want to send an improper message to the criminal element, that they can declare war on police officers and not face the death penalty," he said.
Tirado, meanwhile, was still being held over the weekend at the Maryland Reception Diagnostic Classification Center in Baltimore where he will remain until he is sent to a maximum security facility, most likely the Maryland Penitentiary, according Gregory M. Shipley, a prison system spokesman.
Van Bavel said Tirado received several anonymous threats by mail from state prisons during his trial.
"They were strange letters," Van Bavel said last week. "Some were threatening his life; there were racial epithets. They said things like his life wasn't going to be worth crap and they were waiting for him to get inside."