'Back-room' Justice Is No Justice

January 29, 1992|By Ginni Wolf

On Jan. 24, 1992, Francisco Rodriguez freely admitted to the murder of my husband, Maryland State Police Cpl. Ted Wolf, in Circuit Court in Howard County.

In return, the state's attorney agreed to a pleain this case -- a life sentence "subject to the terms of the plea agreement." These terms were sealed by the court at the state's request, indefinitely, for security reasons.

The terms of the agreement are not the subject of this letter, although I would like them to be. The issue that I would place before you is the grave consequences this type of "back-room justice" has on the criminal justice system as a whole, and on all of us who are protected by it.

With statistics on violent crimes rising, the courts are overburdened with cases to prosecute; clearly, there needs to be some way to expedite the system, but allowing a plea bargain for an irrevocable offense such as murder surely is an appalling miscarriage of justice.

For prosecutors to plea bargain with Francisco Rodriguez, after the same prosecutors so competently and adeptly presented evidence over the summer to convict his co-defendant, Eric Tirado, in the same murder, serves only to seriously undermine the credibility of the State's Attorney's Office. The same facts and evidence which convicted Eric Tirado as the trigger-man apply equally to Francisco Rodriguez. With a second conviction almost guaranteed, why the lack of aggressiveness and the hesitancy to prosecute this time?

Given these rough economic times, and the controversy surrounding the cost of the trial of Eric Tirado, could a dollar value have been placed on a human life, that indeterminate value being weighed against the cost ofa second trial for the same crime?

Should not the public be satisfied with the conviction of the trigger-man and forget about the other person who is equally guilty? Unmistakably, this is an unsavory issue, one to be avoided for political survival.

But if not for financial considerations, and not for lack of evidence, then why allow this mockery of the judicial system?

Obviously, the state's attorney feared that these same questions might be asked of him by the caring citizens of Howard County. Thus, prosectors asked the court to place a seal on the terms of the plea agreement "for institutional securityreasons." In this way, no questions need be answered, except to say that the sentence was "appropriate." And no once could disagree, since no one knows the terms of the plea agreement. How convenient!

Itis the right of the citizens to continuously scrutinize the decisions made by officials. If these decisions are permitted to be hidden from the public eye, then it would seem that the citizens no longer have a voice in their government. As long as we ignore, and thus condone, this type of action on the part of public officials, the system will continue to be weakened, and public confidence in elected officialswill continue to be eroded.

On a personal level, yes, I am angered and frustrated and disappointed with the results of this case. But I am also deeply saddened at the message sent to the law enforcement community. Throughout his almost 16 years of service as a police officer in Howard County, Ted frequently questioned the lenient attitudesof prosecutors and judges toward violent criminals.

As a wife, I listened, I sympathized, but I never truly understood. As of Jan. 24,1992, I know and share the concern of other police officers, and victims of crime as well, for the lack of commitment of public officialsto the system.

I sincerely apologize to all of you that I did notunderstand, and that I was unable to make a difference this time.

I would hope that when you go to the polls to vote in the future, you will remember this case, and the secrecy surrounding it, and will vote to put strength back into the criminal justice system. Until we are all heard on this matter, this form of justice (or injustice) willcontinue.

Ginni Wolf is a Glen Burnie resident.

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