Carroll prosecutor to examine disputed plea bargain Man was accomplice in slaying of trooper

October 11, 1997|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

Carroll County State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes was appointed yesterday to review a controversial plea bargain negotiated with the accomplice of a man who murdered a Maryland state trooper.

The plea agreement -- sealed by prosecutors six years ago and released in August -- gives Francisco Rodriguez, 27, a 15-year sentence for participating in the 1990 shooting of Cpl. Theodore Wolf.

The agreement was made to ensure Rodriguez's testimony against his accomplice, Eric Tirado, who pulled the trigger and was sentenced to life without parole after being convicted of first-degree murder in 1991. The agreement with Rodriguez covered Tirado's first trial and any retrials, Rodriguez's attorney said.

Rodriguez's testimony was not needed. This summer, after Tirado's appeals had been exhausted, Rodriguez asked that the deal be put into effect and that his original sentence of life in prison be reduced to the 15 years agreed upon in the plea bargain.

Howard County State's Attorney Marna McLendon -- unhappy with the agreement made under her predecessor, William Hymes -- said in Howard County Circuit Court yesterday that an attorney representing Wolf's widow had contacted her alleging that Rodriguez lied during a police interview after the shooting and that the agreement should be voided.

McLendon said she she wanted someone from outside to review the case because one of the prosecutors who participated in the plea bargain negotiations still works in the prosecutor's office.

She said it would be difficult and awkward to have one prosecutor in her office asking another prosecutor "difficult questions" that "very clearly put someone in the hot seat."

Barnes said that to determine whether there is any basis for voiding the plea agreement, he will interview everyone who handled negotiations with Rodriguez.

In a motion filed yesterday, Barnes said he had "reliable information" and could glean more from future interviews that would establish that Rodriguez committed fraud during the negotiations. He would not elaborate.

The plea agreement with Rodriguez has been heavily criticized by Wolf's widow, law enforcement agencies and state politicians, in part because the 15-year sentence agreed upon in the deal is time he must spend in prison on an unrelated drug charge

The fate of the agreement will probably be decided in December, when the parties return to court. If it is voided, Rodriguez will face his original sentence of life with the possibility of parole.

Rodriguez's attorney, Thomas Saunders, said yesterday that it is not unusual for defendants to change their statements between the time they talk to police after their arrest and the time they enter into a plea agreement.

"I don't understand where this is coming from," Saunders said. "One prosecutor disagrees with a contractual obligation that was executed by someone who had full authority to do so. As much as the state's attorney's office wants to avoid it, the deal was cut."

Pub Date: 10/11/97

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